High school is stressful.
You’re expected to be a straight-A student, participate in sports, have a job, get a huge amount of service hours, have a lot of friends, maintain a social media presence, take as many AP classes as possible, get high scores on the SAT and ACT, and spend time with your family. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some free time now and again.
My name is Alexie Saputo. I’ve held myself to incredibly high standards during my high school career, with the belief that a B is a bad grade, and the pressure of the SAT weighing down on my shoulders. I’ve had, and continue to have, a full schedule composed of marching band, cheerleading, Junior Optimist Club, Students Leading Students, volunteering, and homework. I didn’t really enjoy school. I’m not a morning person, so the 7am start time of my school is horrible. At the end of summer, I was not looking forward to going back.
I walked into Mrs. Suminski’s classroom on the first day of my junior year, second hour, and I saw a class full of high school students with the same attitude as me, grieving the end of summer, dreading the school year ahead. We contrasted the room, which had bright posters with positive messages. It had a very homey feel, with a refrigerator and sink in the back of the room, and even some hand lotion for the students. The bell rang, and in comes a smiley, cheerful woman on a scooter. She introduced herself as Mrs. Suminski, welcomed us back for another school year, took attendance, and told our class the tale of her ripped-off toenail: a disgusting story that had us all laughing hysterically after about 30 seconds. I can’t remember her exact words, nor can I remember the conversation that followed, but I do remember, very vividly, the joy that Mrs. Suminski sparked in the high schoolers that had previously been sorrowfully staring at their phones. That evening, I was giving my mom a recap of my classes and my first impressions of my teachers, and I told her the story that Mrs. Suminski told us. I told my mom I could tell that my child development class was going to be incredibly fun.
I was right.
Over the course of the semester, Mrs. Suminski showed us that she is compassionate, loving, and fun. She earned the nickname Mama Suminsk after a couple weeks, and that quickly shortened to just mom. During seminar-- a weekly period designed for students to go to other classrooms, get help from teachers, do their homework, or do anything else they need to get done-- Mrs. Suminski’s room became a popular destination. A couple of students who visit her room for seminar don’t even have her for class! They come because their friends love Mrs. Suminski.
Personally, Mrs. Suminski has had a huge impact on my perception of myself, my perception of others, and my perception of school. For the first couple weeks of school, we did a lot of work on our self esteem and confidence. We did an activity after reading an article called, “Self-Esteem: The Pot Nobody Watches” where we each designed a pot (on paper) that reflected our personalities. We were encouraged to be creative and show who we were. Then, we wrote down positive things about everyone in our class and put those messages into their pot. As we got to know each other better, Ms. Suminski told us to do the same activity again- only this time, it had to be personalized. We read all of the messages, both the general and the personalized ones, at the same time. Our hearts were so full, and we were full of positivity and confidence. Through this activity, Ms. Suminski showed us about how valuable each of us are, and she taught us the importance of compliments (filling someone’s pot).
Some quotes about good teachers that remind me of Ms. Suminski are, “No one should teach who is not in love with teaching.” (Margaret E. Sangster), “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” (Mark Van Doren), “Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.” (Uri Bronfenbrenner), and “To the world you may be just a teacher, but to your students, you are a hero!” (Unknown).
“No one should teach who is not in love with teaching.” (Margaret E. Sangster).
Mrs. Suminski regularly talks about her love for teaching. I remember her talking to the class the other day, telling us that she gets annoyed when people discourage youth from going into teaching. I don’t remember her exact words, but they were something like this: “Is it stressful? Yep. Low pay? Absolutely. Difficult students? Oh yeah. But I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.” She went on to talk about the relationships that she has with her students and fellow teachers, and how grateful she is for them. She also described the feeling of watching graduation, saying that she sometimes cries. She talked about watching a student graduate that she wasn’t sure was going to be able to, and crying because she’s so proud of them. She explained that through all of the difficult moments with students, she wants every single one of them to succeed, and she gets so happy when they do. I loved hearing her talk about her love for teaching. It helps me learn because I know she cares. Some teachers that I’ve had in the past haven’t shown that they care if we succeed. They just teach us the material, and look bored, disappointed, or sad by the end. However, Ms. Suminski walks into class every single day with a big smile on her face, asking us how we’re doing, and caring about the response. It’s one of the highlights of my day.
“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” (Mark Van Doren). Mrs. Suminski has definitely inspired me to learn, many times. My little brother was born with a cleft lip and palate, and I’ve been fascinated by it since he was born. One of the projects we had to complete was a presentation on a birth defect, I told her about my brother, and she listened intently (later, I found out that at parent-teacher conferences, she had a great conversation with my mother about my brother!). I asked if I could do my report on cleft lips and palates, and without any hesitation, she said yes. She explained that whenever a student has an interest, she likes to nurture that interest, and help it grow and thrive. Mrs. Suminski has helped a lot of my interests grow and thrive. In early winter, we had to complete three observations in classrooms at the preschool, elementary school, and middle school levels. These observations inspired me to set up my own observations at a pediatric physical therapy center. I’ve gone there a couple times now, and I’m learning so many new things that I wouldn’t have learned if it wasn’t for Mrs. Suminski. While at the observations at the therapy center, I met an amazing little girl with Cerebral Palsy. I’ve also followed kids on social media that have CP. This sparked a lot of interest in CP. Recently, we had to complete a project about a barrier to learning. I was allowed to do CP, and the next day, I spent the class period joyously soaking up information and discovering new things about Cerebral Palsy. The day following that, I presented my findings to the class and Mrs. Suminski, and she was engaged in what I was saying, showing that she cares about my discoveries and my interests. She does the same thing for all the students in my class. For example, students who are interested in ADHD or OCD were allowed to research those. Mrs. Suminski cares that we have a lot of interest in what we’re learning, because she knows how much better we’ll learn when we like our topic or have a personal connection to it.
“Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.” (Uri Bronfenbrenner). I know that there are kids attending Milford High School that would benefit from Mrs. Suminski’s teaching. While writing this, my friend that left Milford High School called me. Her parents haven’t been supportive of her passion for music, dreams of being a producer, or any grade below an A. She feels like they don’t care, and she turns on me when it gets hard. I told her that I was writing about my teacher, one that they hadn’t had, and nominating her to be an honoree. My friend asked what made her different from all the other teachers at Milford, and I told her that Mrs. Suminski doesn’t judge her students based on race, religion, sexuality, passions, ethnicity, political beliefs, or academic performance. She responded, “She doesn’t judge based on academic performance? Wow. She sounds like a good one.”
I wish my friend could’ve had Mrs. Suminski. She needs someone that cares for her unconditionally and appreciates her uniqueness, like Mrs. Suminski. Mrs. Suminski shows all of her students that she cares for them because of all the little things she does for them. About 3 days ago, the class was organizing our binders for a binder check (we need all of our Child Development 1 materials for Child Development 2). I realized that I was missing a paper from a day that I’d been absent. Mrs. Suminski told me to look in the tray where all of the extra papers were. When I couldn’t find it, she wasted no time in helping me find it. Even though this was a small act, it showed me that she cares about me and my success.
In this class, we’re required to take home a mechanical baby for a night, including 30 minutes in public with it. The night I took the baby, it was snowing incredibly hard. The roads were terrible, and I wasn’t able to go to a public place. I knew I’d have to redo the assignment, as I hadn’t done a required part of it. I emailed Mrs. Suminski, telling her I was aware I’d have to redo the assignment. The next day was a snow day, and she emailed me back, saying that I definitely wouldn’t need to redo the assignment, and she understood why I hadn’t done a required part of the assignment. She closed by telling me to enjoy my snow day. It was such a relief to not have to redo the assignment, and I was touched by the fact that she cared about my safety more than a school assignment. Many of the teachers I’ve had would’ve understood why I hadn’t done part of the simulation, but they would’ve made me redo it. I was so touched that Mrs. Suminski cared about the safety of shy, quiet, me more than my grades.
One day, during my school’s seminar period, Mrs. Suminski was taste testing cookies for the staff bake off. She invited us students to try them with her. Now, I’m not a very outspoken person, so I wasn’t one of the people that immediately went up to get a cookie. When she asked if anyone else wanted to get a cookie, I looked up but got shy and didn’t raise my hand. Mrs. Suminski figured out that I wanted a cookie, even though I hadn’t said it. This is so, so important to me. In 11 years of schooling, I’ve been one of the shy kids who doesn’t raise their hand a lot. I tend to not get noticed a lot by teachers. When a teacher recognizes your shyness, and goes so far to learn enough about you to be able to tell when you have something to say, it’s powerful. It shows that she is completely invested in her students, each one of them, and wants the best for them. A teacher that makes every student feel like the most important person in the world is someone truly special, someone who is a gift in every student’s life.
Something that Mrs. Suminski talks about a lot is teaching the whole person. She says that she understands that we are people, and we have stressed-out, busy lives. Instead of teaching from the book to teach us facts, Mrs. Suminski believes in teaching from the heart to teach our hearts and inspire our minds. Through this method, she has sparked a fire in me that made me want to learn, a fire that the pressures and bores of school put out.
I know that this message is sent to Mrs. Suminski herself, and I want to say thank you to her. The amount of love that you pour into teaching and us is unbelievable, and no words could ever do justice to the amount of lives you’ve touched, whether it’s through a smile in the hallway, or a life-changing class, you radiate positivity everywhere you go. You deserve every award, every honor, and every compliment. You’ve made me fall in love with learning again, and you’ve helped me shape my future. I know I’m not the most vocal person. Sometimes I don’t say anything at all. You’ve been an amazing teacher to have, and I feel so lucky that out of all the Child Development teachers alive, I got you as a teacher. Thank you so much.
Thank you for believing in all of your students, and giving us the love and support we need to believe in ourselves.
Thank you for making your classroom a haven, a place where we no longer have to listen to the voices that tell us everything we are doing wrong, and we can instead listen to you telling us everything we are doing right.
Thank you for teaching us to learn, and inspiring us to be greater than we ever thought we could be.
Thank you for your total acceptance of every student, regardless of race, religion, academic performance, sexuality, or financial situation.
Thank you for getting upset when people say “learning-disabled students” instead of “students with learning disabilities” because you believe that a student with a learning disability is a student and a human being above all else.
Thank you for noticing the shy students, the ones who usually aren’t noticed by the teacher. The students who feel less worthy than others because they are less willing to speak. Thank you for being the only teacher in 11 years of schooling who notices the subtle hints that signify that a shy student would like to speak, and thank you for gently encouraging them to share.
Thank you for reigniting the passion in me for learning, and inspiring me to pursue my dreams of working with children.
Thank you for supporting my goals and my interests, and allowing me to research them for projects and activities.
Thank you for accepting every “dumb” idea and being the only person that sees the hidden genius inside the student.
Thank you for the love that you pour over all of us each and every day, for the passion that you show, and for the safe classroom that has become a refuge for so many students.
Thank you for being you. All of your students, past and present, appreciate you more than you could know.
I am endlessly grateful.