This year's 25 winners of Business First's Teacher of Merit Award are quick to share the credit for their success.
Cynthia Calandra gives thanks for the support of fellow teachers, staffers and administrators at Pratt Elementary School in Barker, where she teaches third grade.
"I appreciate having so many people to turn to when I need ideas, advice, encouragement or comfort," she says. "I'm lucky to have spent the last 22 years working in a profession that I love."
Walter Robertson, who teaches history at Dunkirk Senior High School, enjoys the energy his students exude.
"I love the eagerness and curiosity that learners bring to the classroom," he says. "Facing that on a daily basis is both a great responsibility and one of the greatest pleasures teachers receive."
TEACHERS OF MERIT LINK:
• List of this year's 25 Teachers of Merit.
• Photos of this year's honorees.
• Profiles of this year's winners.
Several of this year's honorees consider themselves blessed to be working in their chosen field:
Jennifer Kendt, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at North Tonawanda's Meadow School: "How fortunate am I that 20 years later, I still look forward to going to school every morning?"
Craig Isaacson, who teaches English at Newfane Senior High School: "I feel privileged to be able to share and help in students' advancement into young adulthood."
Gregory Opalinski, a calculus teacher at Lackawanna High School: "I get to teach what I love to study. And oh yeah, it is also awesome giving homework every day!"
Passion for education was a major factor in the selection of this year's 25 Teachers of Merit.
The students who are nominated for Business First's All-Western New York Academic Team are asked, in turn, to identify the most dedicated teachers they have encountered between kindergarten and senior year. They submitted 677 names this year alone.
Students play a prominent role in the selection process because they have proven to be remarkably accurate in assessing teachers' abilities. "Student-perception surveys provide a reliable indicator of the learning environment," concluded a 2013 study by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Any educator who is nominated by at least three students over a three-year period is added to the pool of candidates. Business First bases the annual selection of 25 honorees on several factors, including student endorsements, national and state teaching awards, national board certification, standardized test scores, subject rankings and success in sports and other extracurricular activities.