Burbank instructor is named National Teacher of the Year

Though she was raised by two teachers, Rebecca Mieliwocki never figured she’d end up in front of a classroom.

She first aspired to be a lawyer, then worked in publishing. Unfulfilled, she decided to take up the family profession.

And on Monday, after 14 years in the classroom, she was named the National Teacher of the Year.

“I was not doing work that I felt was making a difference on the planet,” she said. “It was shocking to me as anybody that being a teacher was absolutely the right fit.”

Mieliwocki, a seventh-grade English teacher at Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank, will be recognized by President Obama on Tuesday during a ceremony at the White House.

Mieliwocki said the award is particularly special because it comes at a precarious time for California public schools.

“It is a tremendous testament to how resourceful California educators can be in the face of really crazy budget cuts,” she said. “Public education does so much to provide kids with the highest quality education possible but with so much less.”

Aside from state funding cuts, teachers also face pressure stemming from calls for revamped teacher evaluations. Some districts are using student test scores as one measure of those performance reviews.

Mieliwocki said teachers must be evaluated from a variety of perspectives, including data, to get a true picture of their effectiveness. Teachers’ connections with their students, colleagues and community, as well as student writing scores and test scores, should all be weighed together, she said.

“Accountability matters to me. I have to know I am doing a good job and know what areas I need to improve in,” she said. “But I need to be looked at through every one of those lenses, not just one,”

Mieliwocki was named the Los Angeles County teacher of the year in October. A month later she was named as one of five California teachers of the year by California Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and advanced to the national competition.

“Rebecca Mieliwocki is an inspiration to her students, to me and to every California teacher. She brings enormous energy, enthusiasm and optimism to teaching — a career that has never been more challenging or more vital to our future,” Torlakson said in a statement.

As teacher of the year, Mieliwocki will serve as a national spokesperson for education for one year. She is the seventh California teacher to win the award since it began in 1952.

“It’s a very challenging work environment, but despite that, the schools in Burbank and across California are working wonders,” she said.