August 27, 2014 at 1:00 am

LABOR VOICES

Michigan's great teachers deserve great praise

Michigan's teachers prepare the younger generation for success in a changing world. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

Many of us can recall a great teacher who influenced and inspired us and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for their interest in our education and the knowledge they instilled in us.

I have spoken with teachers whose eyes light up as they tell me a story about a letter they received from a former student, thanking them for the impact they had on that student’s life. Teaching is one of the highest callings in life, and nothing is more gratifying to a teacher than to know they have made a difference in the lives of their students.

Michigan is fortunate to have outstanding teachers in districts throughout the state.

Gary Abud Jr. was named the 2013-14 Michigan Teacher of the Year by the state Department of Education. Gary teaches physics, chemistry and biology at Grosse Pointe North High School, using project-based learning, service learning, digital learning and social media to provide his students with a broad range of educational experiences.

Abud said, “It has been my philosophy that all students can learn and achieve in the classroom, finding the right combination of strategies to match the various learning styles is essential.”

Grosse Pointe Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Harwood described Gary as “a teacher amongst teachers; an innovator of instruction and a creator of dreams for students who wish to further explore their understanding of science.”

Then there’s Melody Arabo, a third grade teacher at Walled Lake’s Keith Elementary School, who was recently named the 2014-15 Michigan Teacher of the Year.

Arabo’s chosen career path was not teaching. She planned to go into marketing and advertising when she accepted a paraprofessional position in the Walled Lake schools.

Realizing her love for teaching and her belief that she could make a real difference in the lives of her students, she changed directions, graduating with a degree in elementary education from Michigan State University. She went on to earn her master’s degree in curriculum and teaching from MSU.

In presenting the Teacher of the Year award, State Superintendent Mike Flanagan stated, “Melody is a dynamic and transformative teacher. Her child-centered approach to learning ensures she meets the needs of all of her students.”

Melody was nominated for the award by a parent of a student in her class. Edie Schwartz explained, “When my son was struggling with reading, Ms. Arabo not only taught him to read, she built in him the confidence to achieve that goal,” adding “she has a magical way of making learning fun for kids.”

Gary Koppelman, a 40-year veteran teacher in the Blissfield Community Schools was recently inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, only the second teacher from Michigan to receive this honor. Out of 7 million teachers across the country, Koppelman was one of five chosen for this honor. Koppelman is a fifth-grade science, math and writing teacher at Blissfield Elementary School.

Blissfield Superintendent Scott Moellenberndt said, “The national recognition is nice, but I find Gary’s greatest accomplishment to be the recognition bestowed on him by many of his former students who credit his positive influence in their becoming industry leaders and educators in areas of animal science, biology, chemistry and physics.”

Gary Abud Jr., Melody Arabo and Gary Koppelman are just three examples of the dedicated educators in Michigan schools who inspire students to achieve in the classroom and later in life. We should not only congratulate them, we should thank them.

Steven Cook is president of the Michigan Education Association.