Teacher of the Year travels the world

Six months into her post as National Teacher of the Year, Rebecca Mieliwocki has traveled throughout California, to 11 states, and to Russia, China, Singapore and Japan.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” the Burbank Unified teacher said. “It’s been six months of traveling the world and the country meeting people, and speaking to people on an inspirational level.”

Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio and Indiana await her next — and possibly Australia — as she makes more than 200 speaking engagements before the end of her term.

While in China and Singapore, Mieliwocki — a seventh-grade English teacher at Luther Burbank Middle School — saw what she had heard to be true: educators teaching to the test and schools without art, drama, dance, music or sports.

“Just very bare bones core academics,” Mieliwocki said. “All they wanted to know was how we do what we do. It was a very happy moment to know we have something to be quite proud of and to keep at it.”

When Mieliwocki leaves her Glendale home for 10 to 12 days at a time for her travels, the same topics come up in conversation.

Among the most repetitive: how teachers should be evaluated by student test scores.

In August, the topic came up at an event hosted by the Bill Gates Foundation in Atlanta.

“[Gates] listened 99% of the time and wrote copious notes about what everyone said,” she said.

“What worries us is when whole states or whole districts are using one score on one test given one time in the school year,” she added. “How do you evaluate art, science and P.E. teachers, when only English and math is tested?”

Another common concern among teachers she meets is California’s poor investment in public education.

While in the Dakotas, Wyoming and Minnesota, Mieliwocki said she saw a different reality — arts programs that stand out, vocational training opportunities for students and up-to-date classroom facilities.

“Our own kids are terribly disadvantaged,” she said. “If you went to school in another state, you go, ‘Why can’t we have this?’

In California, meanwhile, “the lights are on. I have desks. I haven’t had new textbooks in 10 years,” she said. “It’s shameful. Thirty years of cutbacks have given us a system that barely works for kids to be competitive. We’re guaranteeing we’re going to be in last place for a long time.”

This spring, Mieliwocki will return to her Napa roots to address teachers there, including some of her own former educators.

“It’s just a very exciting six months ahead to focus my efforts on doing the most good for teachers, making sure we’re heard,” she said.


Follow Kelly on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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