Teacher of the Year reflects on her experience
A year on the road as the 2015 Iowa Teacher of the Year fundamentally changed Clemencia Spizzirri.
Instead of the micro-view of education that is customary as a classroom teacher, her travels gave her the Big Picture. And she loves what she sees.
“The first thing I learned is the passion of educators,” Spizzirri said. “I saw how devoted they are to reach the goals in every school, every district. They are very committed.”
The experience also gave her new perspective.
“It’s easy when you are teaching in your school to see what is not going right,” she said. “But I learned about looking for progress, not perfection.”
Spizzirri said each district faces its own unique challenges.
“It is fascinating how they go above and beyond their job duties to ensure kids are successful,” she said. “I have seen educators go door to door to get kids back in school. I have seen them working to get kids to fill out college applications.”
On her travels outside the state, educators praise the state’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation system, known as TLC.
“TLC is nationally renowned,” she said. “Every meeting I have been in out of state, people compliment us about our TLC.”
Spizzirri’s focus on cultural diversity – which she defines as anything that makes you who you are – was well received on her travels, and she sees progress among the school districts in understanding that students with different backgrounds may need different approaches and accommodations to learn.
“Educators are understanding the difference between equality and equity,” she said. “One size fits all is equality. But equity is ensuring everyone is brought along. I like to say that equality is putting out a bench from which children can stand and try to look over the fence. For the taller children, they have no problem seeing over the fence, but the shorter children will not be able to. Equity, however, would take into account the children’s different heights, and the bench would be of varying heights to ensure all students can see over the fence.”
With all students, it is important to keep cultural diversity in mind when teaching.
“Not every kid has the same background, so they don’t have the same view of education,” she said. “All kids don’t learn at the same pace. We as educators need to reach those students where they are to take them to the next level.”
And it’s wrong to assume that cultural diversity is a minority issue.
“A lot of white kids are overlooked because it is easy to assume they are not intelligent,” she said. “Have you asked about the background of this child? Have they broken the line of poverty? Are they college bound?”
Before heading back to her Spanish-class students at Merrill Middle School in Des Moines this fall, Spizzirri is heading back to her native Ecuador to visit family. Though initially the trip was going to be entirely for pleasure, she plans to visit earthquake-ravaged areas that were destroyed by temblors this past spring. Specifically, she plans to visit classrooms that operate from emergency tents.
No matter where Spizzirri goes or what she does, she somehow manages to keep students at the foremost of her thinking.
“Even though I was on the road, I dropped by our building several times,” she said. “It is a joy walking in the hallways and seeing my kids.”