A woman who began her teaching career in Ecuador and eventually made her way to Des Moines was named the 2015 Iowa Teacher of the Year today.
Governor Terry Branstad talked about the teacher in front of students in the gym at Merrill Middle School in Des Moines. “She exemplifies what great teaching is all about. In her application she explained that she works to involve students in real world experiences that go to the heart of what education is meant to be, and at the same time motivating them to reach higher levels of achievement and to become life-long learners,” Branstad says.
The governor then revealed the teacher’s name. “I am pleased to join in honoring Merrill Middle School’s Clemencia Spizzerri,” Branstad says. Spizzerri came out of the bleachers and addressed the students.
“I am humbled and honored to be standing here with all of you, receiving this prestigious award and sharing my vision of how education has shaped my life, and inspiring me to become the teacher that I am today,” Spizzerri says.
She talked about winning the award after posing for pictures with the governor and school administrators. “It’s really beyond words, it is a true honor. It is really an amazing journey and I am looking forward to learning so much form the expertise from other teachers as well,” she says. The 38-year-old Spizzerri has taught Spanish at Merrill for five years and administrators say she is know for helping needy children and families understand the importance of education.
She was the youngest of seven children who grew up in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Spizzerri says her mother and her older brother helped her read and understand books and she says she then saw how poverty prevented many in Ecuador from getting an education. “The country that I come from, actually education is a privilege that not everyone can achieve,” Spizzerri says. “So my views on education were, I can empower children through education, I can help them to break that cycle of poverty, so that was what inspired me.”
Spizzerri says it’s important to teach students about diversity. “Because I think that right now we are in a very global and knowledge-based society where we need to advocate our students be global learners to perform at their best,” Spizzerri explains. She has taught English and basic life skills to refugees from other countries and says learning the language is one of the things that hinders newcomers to the country.
“Language barrier yes can be one, but also I think that one of the barriers would be that we need to advocate ourselves more in regards to multicultural understanding, empathy and self awareness,” according to Spizzerri.
Spizzerri lives in Waukee with her husband and three children. The Iowa Department of Education says as the Teacher of the Year she will travel the state and talk with others and be an ambassador to education. The Teacher of the year Award was established in 1958.
Audio: Teacher of the Year announcement. 15:00.