Schools name top teachers

Published 11:26 pm Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Suffolk’s Teacher of the Year for 2010 cried every day of her first year teaching. Her first job was as an eighth-grade teacher at Booker T. Washington, while it was still an intermediate school. The previous teacher had quit mid-year.

“The students said when I got there, ‘How’s your heart doing, because we gave the other one a heart attack,” Christina Klein recalled on Tuesday. “A lot of them were tall and mean, and there I was little ol’ me, 5 foot and 105 pounds.”

But she never thought of quitting.

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While her career may have had rocky beginnings, Klein is now a seventh-grade civics and economics teacher at John Yeates Middle School. And now — 21 years later — she has won Teacher of the Year.

“I didn’t expect anything like this,” said Klein, who added that she was embarrassed and humbled by the award. “It’s a tremendous honor, and I greatly appreciate the vote of confidence.”

Her colleagues describe Klein as dedicated, enthusiastic and caring, and Principal Daniel O’Leary said her contributions to the school are part of the school’s overall success.

Additionally, a past student who has since become a colleague speaks highly of her in both roles.

“It was clear then, and now, that Mrs. Klein truly loves her job and was born with a gift,” Lori White stated in a press release. “She teaches with purpose and drive. She has an innate ability to turn a lesson into artwork.”

The parents of Klein’s students also praise her for her consistent communication with parents.

One parent “said he had evaluated many teachers and ‘marveled at their innate abilities to transfer knowledge to students and to teach them how to learn. Never have I met one with such stamina, fortitude, and zeal for helping parents, and in turn, establishing the partnership necessary to ensure that children learn,’” according to an statement from the school administration announcing the award.

While some say her abilities are innate, Klein said she didn’t always know she would become a teacher, but she always knew she wanted to work with students.

“You have a lot more influence at this age,” Klein said. “You don’t know what happens to the people around you when they go home,” Klein said. “You don’t know what they endure behind closed doors. If you don’t treat them kindly, you could just be adding to the misery they live in. Can I be that person that makes a difference for some of those kids? We don’t always know. At this age, you can make them or break them, and I just want to make them.”

While Klein’s rookie years are behind her, Amber Nachman is in her first year teaching second grade at Driver Elementary and has been awarded Rookie Teacher of the Year.

“This year has been harder than I expected, but it’s been good,” Nachman said. “Everyone here has embraced me with open arms. I feel like I’ve been here for years.”

Her colleagues consider her intellectually curious and bright, according to the announcement, and although she has found the different levels of learning within her class challenging, she has risen above it and found innovative ways to ensure good experiences for her students.

“I try to teach everyone at their own level,” she said. “It requires a lot of time and a lot more work, but watching my kids grow and having kids who work at a first-grade level and others who work at a sixth-grade level — you have to try your hardest.”

Other award winners were Daniel Walker, who was named High School Teacher of the Year, and Jessica Allen, who was named Elementary School Teacher of the Year.