Luther Burbank Middle School teacher Rebecca Mieliwocki on Friday was named a Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year, joining an elite group of educators recognized for their compelling classroom practices and dedication to students.
"It is humbling," said Mieliwocki, who has lived in Glendale with her family since 1995. "Just when you think you should feel puffed up, you actually feel really humble. I really feel like I am being recognized for just being who I am. I can't be anybody else but me, so to be noticed and nominated … is very exciting."
Mieliwocki and 15 other winners — dubbed the Sweet 16 — were selected from among the county's 75,000 teachers, and automatically advance to the California Teachers of the Year competition this fall.
"It is a lot of fun," Duane Mieliwocki said of his wife's award. "They all work hard. They come home from work, and they keep working."
Raised in Napa by two life-long teachers, Mieliwocki said she spent Sundays in her mother's classroom.
"I just sort of had fun playing school while she was grading papers — writing on the chalk board and learning how to make copies on an actual mimeograph machine," Mieliwocki said.
As a young adult, she had no interest in pursuing a career in education, dabbling instead in publishing and a few other related fields. But several years in, she said she found herself deeply unsatisfied.
"My husband made me do one of those lists of what do you need to have in a job and what do you not want in a career," she said. "As soon as I showed him the list, he just laughed and said, 'I know exactly what you are supposed to be, and I think you do too.'"
She enrolled in a teaching credential program at Cal State Northridge, completing the requirements in 1995. Mieliwocki was hired by Burbank Unified shortly thereafter, and went on to teach English and writing at middle and high schools.
She has also taught composition classes at Cal State Northridge, and continues to be heavily involved with the education department at the university.
"I think if I had to look around and pick something that is working fantastically, it is public education in Burbank," Mieliwocki said. "I wish more families knew, and really could believe with confidence, that public schools are doing a phenomenal job."
She gave credit to her colleagues and mentors who have inspired her to make a difference in children's lives.
"If I am any good at all, it is because of the other people who have mentored and guided me," Mieliwocki said.
The Teacher of the Year honor came with more than just a certificate — each of the teachers received a $1,000 check, and will have the latest in interactive whiteboard technology installed in their classrooms.
"I love that every day is a new adventure," Mieliwocki said. "I love that my job makes a difference. I love making kids feel they matter."