Teacher Appreciation Week is a time to honor educators everywhere who have worked tirelessly to help inspire, encourage, and challenge the future change-makers of our world. Teachers Federal Credit Union is excited to give back through its 2nd Annual Teacher Appreciation Week Contest. 

 

After careful review of more than 1,000 nominations from across the nation, and a week-long public vote, we’re excited to announce the 12 educators who have been awarded $1,000 classroom grants. 

meet the winners

K-5 Winners

Angela Boris, William Floyd School District, New York

Photo of Angela Boris

Angela Boris is an ESL teacher who even teaches students who do not speak fluently in their own native language. Angela has found ways to reach out and help these students progress at all levels of reading and speaking. Even through the pandemic, these students needed to see how facial movement works, but masks made it very hard to learn how to pronounce words and to truly understand her. Angela found ways to demonstrate how to move their mouth. She is even responsible for encouraging a struggling student to become a teacher.

“I believe it is my job as an educator to provide all of my students with the skills and tools they need to have a successful academic education and life.”

Robin Hughes, Hillsborough County School District, Florida

Photo of Robin Hughes

Robin Hughes’ contribution as a special education teacher always goes above and beyond when it comes to her students. She inspires all of her students to spread joy and to not only dream but strive to reach those dreams. Living in Florida, her students never saw or felt snow, so Robin had her sister in Kentucky build a little snowman and ship it overnight so she can teach her kids about the weather and they could finally touch snow. Living in the school’s cafeteria freezer and making appearances, Lucky the snowman is still intact and the students are saving Lucky as it melts to water plants on Earth Day.

“I look at each of my students holistically. I am just as concerned about their emotional and physical health as I am about their academics. I take the time to get to know each of my students, their interests, their fears, hopes, and dreams, then I meet that student where they academically are to design a plan of how I, as their teacher, can be a part of dreams and success.”

PatriciaAnn McCaffrey, Oyster Bay School District, New York

Photo of Patricia Ann McCaffrey

PatriciaAnn McCaffrey is a special education reading teacher who not only teaches her students how to read, but also inspires them to advocate for their needs and the needs of others. She has dedicated her after-school time to teach parents and community members English as a second language. This involvement in her school community awarded her the KIPP MA Service award. She has also created programs for students who struggle with truancy to ensure that they attend school. 

“I believe that we are never finished learning, and there are always learning opportunities around us. Therefore, students should not only learn from me, the teacher, but each other as well. My classroom is an environment where if we do not know an answer, we use the resources around us (tools and classmates) to help us try our best.”

Stephen O’Brien, Patchogue/Medford School District, New York

Photo of Stephen O'Brien

Stephen O’Brien can light up a classroom with inspiration and humor. Working in a classroom of children with Down Syndrome and Autism, he finds ways to communicate, even with non-verbal students. With his funny sense of humor and strong structure in the classroom, these children are thriving. He uses games and alternative teaching methods, including personalized teaching videos weekly using filters that transform the students and himself into animated characters and songs to encourage the love of learning new words.

“My teaching philosophy changes year to year. Today, I think it comes down to three factors: creativity, structure, and flexibility. Creativity or innovation is the most important way to engage students in learning. Structure and flexibility seem to be competing ideas, but the balance of the two makes for meaningful learning experiences in the classroom. It’s really about having that foundation, but sometimes adapting “on the fly” for the benefits of the students and the culture of the classroom.”

6-8 Winners

Kathryn Beleckas, Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, New York

Photo of Kathryn Beleckas

Kathryn Beleckas has taken the role of librarian to a new level. Handling traditional roles of a librarian, she has also contributed a modern component to the library system that this high school has never seen. Kathryn collaborates with every department in the school to create lessons that take place using the library, and digital breakout activities to supplement classroom content. She also runs professional development workshops to support teachers in their technological needs, i.e., Google Classroom, digital breakouts, GoGuardian, Google Suite, ClassLink, EdPUzzle and NearPod to list a few.

“My students are at the core of my teaching philosophy. I believe that it is paramount that students know their teachers care about them and feel comfortable in their classrooms. Every student has different needs and interests. Therefore, flexibility is key. I believe in constantly adjusting lessons to better meet student needs.”

Melanie Drinkwater, Canton School District, Connecticut

Photo of Melanie Drinkwater

Melanie graduated from college right before the pandemic with her Masters in Teaching Science. She has worked tirelessly as a first and second year teacher to bring alive the Science program and bring engaging activities such as guest speakers and experiments to further her student’s learning and love of the subject. Melanie is involved in and out of the classroom…running the science club, and coaching the track team. She puts in so much effort into her students, often responding on weekends when they need help. 

“I feel that students learn best when they can learn things through hands-on experiences. For example, when the forest near our school was cut-down, I was intent on getting slices of the trees so we could study tree rings and rainfall data during our geology unit next month. This allowed us to look at the very community the kids live in, and study how certain environmental factors have changed over time!”

Brianne Torre, South Country Central School District, New York

Photo of Brianne Torre

Brianne Torre is dedicated to her students and their development on all levels. She has talked students through the most emotional and traumatic situations and made sure they received the assistance and resources they are entitled to. She dedicated the back closet of her room as a safe space for students to get food, clothing, and other necessities such as hygiene products. Brianne has gone into the community and visited students’ houses to make sure they had everything they deserved to have, and if they did not, she got it for them. She has developed long lasting relationships with students, and some of these students she never even had assigned to her as a teacher. She lives with the mindset that all students are her children. 

“My teaching philosophy is centered around safety, trust, and teamwork. I believe that when students know that they are safe within their learning environment, they will take risks, show accountability, and rely on the love that is provided within that classroom daily to better themselves through learning. Teaching is much more than curriculum and assessments; when students love being part of their team, they will rise to the occasion, exceed expectations, and show their enthusiasm for learning.”

Amanda Williams, Brentwood School District, New York

Photo of Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams teaches 7th & 8th grade Social Studies, not just just “teaching” her students, but allowing them to think freely and have thoughts, ideas and opinions about the lessons they are receiving. She cares about her students and their lives outside of the classroom, knowing that life outside the classroom can have a direct effect on their learning and participation in her classroom. She gives freely of her own time and money to positively impact their lives in school activities as well.

“My teaching philosophy is that all students can learn no matter what challenges lie ahead of them. In my classroom, students are immersed with real-life experiences, perseverance, different lesson activities, confidence, and conversations. I believe that if students feel valued, they can and will learn. At the end of every class period, I wish students a good day and remind them to make smart choices and be a good human!”

9-12 Winners 

Eric S. Banks, Westbury Union Free School District, New York

Photo of Eric Banks

Eric Banks has been described as a tremendous teacher, mentor, and friend with a special gift for making people feel unique. His mission and vision as a man of color is to help students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds have a better chance and an equal opportunity to experience high quality education. As an alumnus of the high school where he teaches, Eric’s goal is to serve as a role model and embody excellence inside and outside of the classroom. His hope is that his classroom can serve his school community as a lamppost, a catalyst for change within school culture, and a heartbeat for student motivation.

“My teaching philosophy is very simple: "N.E.A.R". N.E.A.R stands for New, Exciting, And Rewarding! By using the acronym N.E.A.R as the center focus of what I envision my teaching to be, I have made a huge impact on student growth in my classroom. This acronym has provided ways for students to feel free, safe, and interested to grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially within my classroom.”

Andres Diaz, Morris Hills Regional District, New Jersey

Photo of Andres Diaz

Andres Diaz inspires his students by investing in them not only academically but emotionally as well. His open door policy promotes a safe space for students, showcasing his belief that relationships and connections with his students are just as important as the curriculum. He recently won an Honored National Teaching Award (www.honored.org), which celebrates exceptional teachers across the country who have changed the life of a student. Andres was described as a lifelong friend and mentor whose dedication to his students is what sets him apart from the rest.

“My philosophy on teaching is that being a good teacher goes beyond the curriculum. It means caring for the individual and adjusting to help them in whatever way they need. If you can't connect with your class and students on an individual basis, you won't be able to teach, no matter how good you are. These are young people, they are layered and complicated and trying to figure out who they are and what they want. That takes time. I think good teaching aims to help them in that way. Yes the material is important, but real education needs to go beyond it. It's all about the person.”

Mindy Viggiano, Greenport Union Free School District, New York

Photo of Mindy Viggiano

Mindy Viggiano is an English teacher working to inspire students and teach them life’s most important lessons that can be applied not only within the classroom, but in everyday life. Whether it be before or after school, or on the weekend, Mindy is passionate about helping her students develop their skills. She also dedicates countless hours outside of school hours as the leader of the school's newspaper. A great teacher is one that continues to inspire and push their students to do their best in all that they do, and that is exactly what Mindy does. 

“My basic philosophy is that teaching should light a fire and a passion for independent thinking. Through critical thinking and passion, students are capable of anything. Teaching is to foster that drive and then let them go. I have a passion to make learning fun and entertaining and it instills positivity into the students' everyday lives.”

Christy Zummo, Sachem Central School District, New York

Photo of Christy Zummo

Christy Zummo is a Spanish teacher who prides herself on making connections with her students whether it's engaging in a conversation or learning about them through her work. Outside of her role as an educator, she is the World Language Chairperson, is on the board of directors for her local youth lacrosse program, and runs a service club specializing in teaching students how to help make a difference and become leaders inside and outside of the community. Through her generosity, constant optimism, and care for others, Christy inspires her colleagues everyday and lifts them up to make a difference in their school. 

“Teaching is all about connections, no matter the subject. Connections to what students are learning about, connections between myself and the kids and connections between each other. I look at all of my students like my own children, and I am always mindful that they bring to class a unique experience. The high school years are so significant to their future that a positive influence can make a huge difference. So I try to keep it positive, positive, positive!”

DISCLOSURE & CONTEST RULES

Nominations can be submitted via teachersfcu.org or via designated TikTok partners. You must be 18 years or older to submit a nomination. Checks will be made payable to the schools of the winning teachers.  Please allow up to 2 weeks for a check to be made payable to the selected schools. A W-9 form must be filled out by the winner's school and be placed on file with Teachers Federal Credit Union upon receipt of funds. Not limited to any state or school district. Winners selected will have their photo taken. Winners grant Teachers Federal Credit Union the right to use any images, name, voice/video, recordings and any contest submissions in all forms of media, for all legal purposes, including but not limited to advertising, trade, or any commercial purpose through the world and in perpetuity. The contest is not applicable for Teachers employees.