Five teachers representing more than 135 years of classroom teaching were announced as the 29th class to be inducted into The National Teachers Hall of Fame, Monday evening.
The announcement was made during a special virtual presentation.
The announcements are typically made each year in March, surprising teachers in their classrooms with family, friends, colleagues, and students present to celebrate the honor. Unfortunately, school closures amid the pandemic put everything on hold this year.
“We have been hiding everything so much and these nominees have been waiting for more than six months to know,” NTHF Executive Director Carol Strickland told The Emporia Gazette. “We wanted to do something more special than just sending a letter or making a phone call. With school closings and doing everything virtually, we were trying to be creative.”
Under normal circumstances, each year in March, surprise announcements are held in each of the inductees’ schools, with family, friends, colleagues, and students present to celebrate the honor. Unfortunately, school closures amid the pandemic put everything on hold. Then travel was a problem, and the June induction date in Emporia had to be canceled. The NTHF Board of Trustees voted to postpone the induction ceremonies for the Class of 2020 until June of 2021 to give the new members their full time in the spotlight. Unfortunately, no announcements have been made, so the 24 semifinalists have been waiting six months to know the decision of the national selection committee that met in late February.
This year’s inductees represent four different states and a variety of teaching assignments. They are:
Andrew Beiter, a Springville (New York) Middle School eighth grade Social Studies teacher, who has completed 25 years of teaching. Beiter was nominated by Megan Felt of the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes for his innovation in the classroom.
“His impact reaches beyond the boundaries of his classroom to include educators and students around the world,” Felt said. “His colleagues and students speak of his love and passion for teaching.”
“I’m truly grateful for the impact Andrew has had on our school and students,” said Shanda DuClon, Springville Middle School principal. “He has successfully led several school-wide lessons where tolerance is the topic. He is an advocate for our students, and through his support, Andrew has created a safe environment where students can truly be themselves without judgment.”
Also from New York is Thomas Knab, a K-4 Visual Arts educator at Dodge Elementary School in East Amherst, New York, with 31 years of teaching. He and Beiter are the 11th and 12th teachers from New York to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“Thom really delivers when it comes to teaching children,” Scott G. Martzloff, Superintendent of Williamsville Central Schools, said. “Our students are so fortunate to have him as their teacher as he continues to bring a spark to their learning while maintaining high standards for excellence. Our students love having him as their Art teacher and continue to express their deep appreciation for his instructional excellence.”
Lora Marie Durr, a colleague, nominated Knab as “an inspiring educator who truly cares for his students and fellow educators.”
Melissa Collins, a second grade teacher at John P. Freeman Optional School in Memphis, Tennessee, has completed 21 years of teaching and is the 5th teacher from Tennessee to become a Hall of Famer.
“Melissa embodies a true innovator for the sound pedagogy and opportunities for the classroom,” Dyane Smokorowski, a 2019 NTHF inductee who nominated Collins, said. “She’s the first one to step forward and say, ‘Pick me,’ for any new initiative; but more than that, she is committed to taking these learning opportunities and inspiring future educators to be innovative and cutting-edge.”
Michael Dunlea, a colleague who teaches 3rd grade in Tabernacle, New Jersey, and whose class is virtually linked to Collins’ class in Tennessee for team projects, praises her extremely diverse leadership as her work has been “significant in Equity, Mentoring new/novice/pre-service teachers, National Board Certification, STEM, Social Emotional Learning, Global Teaching Mindset, and Student and Teacher Advocacy.” Dunlea says he admires his colleague as “she has contributed heavily to the work of teacher advocacy at the local, state, national and international levels. Dr. Collins has overcome struggles and obstacles such as racism and oppression to lead this profession as a teacher leading from the classroom.”
Donna Gradel, a retired 10th-12th grade Environmental Science teacher from Broken Arrow High School, and current Dean of Academics and Innovation at Summit Christian Academy in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, completed her 33rd year of teaching in May and is the 4th teacher from Oklahoma to join the Hall of Fame ranks.
Elizabeth Burns, Principal of Broken Arrow High School says Gradel “inspires her students to do much more than simply parrot academic facts; instead, students are challenged to discover real world issues to create workable solutions for those issues.”
Gradel and her students have provided a sustainable source of food for an orphanage in Tharaka, Kenya. Through creative problem-solving and utilizing scientific inquiry, her students developed a low-cost, sustainable fish food sourced from indigenous materials. This fish food is used to maintain the tilapia pond which provides food for the orphanage. This classroom project has also provided a safe clean water for use by the entire village as well as a nearby elementary school and medical clinic. Many of Gradel’s students have been able to travel with her to Africa during the summer so that they can continue to study the project and devise ways of improving the life-sustaining assistant that their hard work provided.
Gradel was nominated for consideration by Richard Knoeppel, a 2019 NTHF inductee.
“Donna Gradel is committed to unlocking the potential of her students by empowering them to solve real-world problems for the benefit of their global community,” Knoeppel said. “Her students are exposed to environmental issues and challenged to create solutions. Always asking her students ‘what problem do you want to solve?’ gives them a sense of purpose and has shown them that their teacher has a genuine concern for them and is willing to be their champion.”
Jamil Siddiqui, a 9th to 12th grade Mathematics teacher at East Bridgewater Junior/Senior High School in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, has completed 26 years in the classroom, and is the third teacher from Massachusetts to be inducted.
His principal, Elizabeth Legault, said that he does all that he can to improve the school climate and culture.
“His leadership and influence has resulted in math instruction moving from a weakness to a strength in our school,” Legault said. “He has transformed instruction in his subject more than any teacher I know. Jamil models excellence in teaching and learning, maintaining a high level of mutual respect with all and a belief that success through effective effort will take place.”
Knoeppel also nominated Siddiqui.
“As a Mathematics teacher, Jamil has a long list of awards and accomplishments that demonstrate his excellence in the classroom,” Knoeppel said. “However, it is the relationships that he builds with his students and his love of Math that truly define what an exemplary educator he is. It is clear to see that Jamil’s students will be his true legacy as he has inspired sixteen former students, to date, to become Math teachers.”
The inductees will be honored in early May in Washington DC by Congressional delegations from Kansas, New York, Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma; will meet with representatives from the US Department of Education to discuss education issues; and will be recognized by the Executive Board of the National Education Association at their headquarters, with NEA President Becky Pringle presenting an award to each inductee. In June, the inductees and their families will visit Emporia, dubbed “Teacher Town, USA” by Teacher Magazine, to be formally inducted. A week later, the five will travel to Orlando to be featured presenters at the Education Summit at DisneyWorld, sponsored by Pegasus Springs Education Collective. It will be a busy time for these outstanding career educators, all of whom are still teaching full-time.