NAUGATUCK — City Hill Middle School teacher Tiffany Deitelbaum believes all children inherently want to learn and that it is her job to educate them, no matter the challenges.
While she respects students who can overcome adversities in their lives, she does not agree with people who praise students for learning despite having many odds stacked against them.
“It should never be despite the causes, it is because of them that these students have no other choice but to rise above and prosper,” she said.
That philosophy has worked in helping Deitelbaum teach effectively in the classroom over 19 years in the Naugatuck public school district. It is also part of the reason she has been named teacher of the year for the borough’s school district.
This is the first year Naugatuck public schools have given out a teacher of the year award. Local civic organizations often honor teachers, and the Naugatuck Exchange Club gives out an educator of the year award annually.
Deitelbaum, a Naugatuck native and current resident, will be the first Naugatuck public school teacher entered into the statewide teacher of the year program through the Connecticut State Department of Education. The program is sponsored by the department’s Talent Office and several corporate, organizational and individual sponsors. The local winner gets put into a national teacher of the year competition.
Accolades for teaching are nothing new to Deitelbaum — in her first year as an educator she was named Sallie Mae First Class Teacher. She has also received the CT Celebration of Excellence Award for Folklore in the middle grades unit and was named Connecticut Learnzillion Dream Team Teacher in 2014 through a partnership between the Connecticut State Department of Education and Learnzillion, a national organization dedicated to championing teachers and supporting their ongoing professional development. She also was one of 200 educators, out of 4,000 applications nationwide, to receive national honors from Learnzillion.
While awards are nice, they are not what drives Deitelbaum.
“I do it for the kids, really,” she said. “When someone asks what your best moment is in your career, I would just say every year there is a moment with a child where you are like, ‘Yes — they got it. Or, OK they do like to read now. Or maybe they don’t hate school.’”
Last year, she had a group of students who presented a particular set of challenges. Many of them were not engaged in learning and some of them were too preoccupied with other things in their lives to care much about school.
“It was a combination of things, maybe grades, maybe home life,” she said.
While the first few months of the year were difficult, around Christmas, she noticed marked improvement in the class. Suddenly, she said, she didn’t want the students to ever leave because she had built such a strong camaraderie with them.
The way she was able to build that rapport was by showing students she cared. She wanted them to learn. She was not going to give up on them.
Every time she tried something that didn’t work, she reflected on how to make the lesson better.
“There is one word that can best describe my beliefs as a teacher and the style in which I teach,” she said. “Reflective. I believe that to be better than I was yesterday, I have to reflect on what I did today and then learn how to be better for tomorrow.”