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More Than Just a Teacher: Remembering the Best Teacher & Shouting Out My Peers

collage of RPS 205 teachers

I distinctly remember my first day of school with the best teacher I ever had.

Ms. Jakucyn was tall and commanding. She wore a purple suit with wide shoulders and a broach on the lapel. Her sharp and raspy voice cut through your daydreaming, snapping you back to reality. Her overhead projector had a stuffy appropriate to the season. At 2:30 p.m. there was no choice but to be alert, active and engaged in precalculus. She demanded excellence from us all, gave high praise often and a JOLLY RANCHER if you caught a mistake she made.

There was something markedly different about Ms. Jakucyn. She was more than just a teacher. She wasn’t just “fun” and a “warm demander” – there was something else. I did not appreciate this something else until I became a teacher myself. Ms. Jakucyn’s professionalism extended beyond the classroom where she was an active member of the National Council for Teaching Mathematics and the author of several textbooks. Her involvement in these spaces informed and permeated every aspect of her practice. It was something I aspired to as soon as my career launched and recently landed me on the executive board for the American Association of Physics Teachers.

At Auburn High School, I’ve found myself surrounded by similar professionals in every corner of The Castle. No matter the content area, Auburn houses teachers excellent in both content and craft.

Dr. James Hays and Dr. Robert Hammer hold doctorates in their respective math and science fields. They are more than just teachers. Dr. Hays frequently shares the highs and lows of graduate school with our students who cannot see beyond their high school GPA yet. He’s able to talk about being a chemist in his classroom, sharing his firsthand experiences working for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Rebecca Roth, who teaches world history, is currently pursuing her master's degree in American History from Gettysburg College through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. She is more than just a teacher. She regularly discusses her studies and ongoing research, and loves the opportunity to be immersed in her field. She believes that actively reading, writing and researching allows her to create better experiences for her students as she encourages their own writing.

Auburn art teacher Jason Judd and his wife, West Middle School art teacher Iga Puchalska, saw a huge deficit in students' ability to use programs creatively. Since many RPS 205 and Rockford-area students choose Northern Illinois University after graduation, Judd and his wife created New Genres Art Space. They are more than just teachers.

Katelyn Boulton, a former social worker, who currently teaches business and college career readiness, says that her experiences in the field help to inform her conversations with students and allows her to connect on a deeper level than she would otherwise be able. She is more than just a teacher.

Additionally, many of our teachers are members in professional organizations for their specific content area and have written and published about their field or education. Whether it’s designing the cover and writing the book about an exhibition like Jason Judd (also translated into Estonian!), or articles on teaching for a journal in Spain by Victoria Arroyo, or the regular Perspective contributions from our librarianLori Drummond-Cherniwchan, to digging into Rockford’s history in the book “Rockford's Forgotten Driving Park: Racing, Politics and Circuses” by Amanda Becker, Auburn Knights are engaged and articulate experts.

It’s also of note that each year an Auburn teacher has received the Outstanding Research Award from the culminating symposium for the Urban Education Master’s pathway at Rockford University.

Teachers deal with encounters and policies that others claim they could never handle, while their primary focus is nurturing the developing minds and spirits of the children they interact with every day.

As teachers, we are professionals and experts. We are advocates and allies. We are creators and communicators. We are mentors. We are humans engaging with growing humans in some of the most special ways. We kindle beauty, passion and talent. We are so much more than just a teacher.

Marianna Ruggerio headshot

Marianna Ruggerio

Marianna Ruggerio teaches physics and AP physics at Auburn High School and is an adjunct professor at Rockford University. She is an active member of the American Association of Physics Teachers and a teacher-leader with the University of Illinois Physics and Secondary Schools Partnership Program.

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