#EOTY42: Geneva 304 Science Teacher Matt Gain Is Kane County Educator of the Year
With neon motion graphics and powerful ’80s rock music playing in the background, Geneva Middle School South Science Teacher Matt Gain was named the 2016-17 Kane County Educator of the Year Friday, April 28, at the Q Center in St. Charles.
As Gain accepted the award in front of more than 750 fellow teachers, administrators, and elected officials, he shared stories of the impact his teachers had on him and the impact he hopes to have on his students.
“We stand on the shoulders of great people in our past, past teachers, our family, current teachers and students — they all make us who we are,” Gain said.
Like many great scientists, Matt Gain got his start at a young age by tinkering with anything that he could get his hands on. While his parents may not have loved coming home to see him taking apart their telephone or stereo, it was through this that Gain started to find his love of science.
Inspired by his own teachers as a student, Gain decided to pursue teaching. He has spent the past 16 years teaching chemistry and physics at Geneva Middle School South. His unique style of teaching incorporates storytelling and characters to make his lessons interesting and memorable.
“I think what drove me to teaching versus working in a lab was the interactions with students,” he said. “It’s not that I’m just there to give them information. It’s also that there is a deeper relationship that happens too that makes each day different and exciting.”
You might think that an English class could be dry and boring, focusing on sentence-structure esoterica such as when to use an Oxford comma. But if you walk into Alice Froemling’s freshman or sophomore English class, you see students engaged in a variety of activities that are anything but dull.
Froemling has been teaching English and Language Arts at St. Charles North High School for eight years. She is always looking for new ways to make English engaging, whether it be through writing prompts, scavenger hunts, or assignments based off her students’ interests.
“I think it all comes back to the relationship with the students,” Froemling said. “If I see a student with their head down or not engaged in the lesson, I make sure to touch base with them to talk about what’s going on outside that might be affecting them in the classroom.”
As Cindy Miller walks down the hallway at Kaneland High School, you might hear students call out her nickname — “Mother Miller.” It’s a moniker of affection, of course, and an accurate description of a teacher who cares so much about her students and helps them grow during their high school years.
Miller has been an educator for 22 years and has spent a majority of those years at Kaneland High School. She spends much of her time mentoring her students and helping them prepare to enter the world as adults.
“I learn from the students and they learn from me as well,” she said. “When you can step back and say that you learned something new from your students, that makes a successful teacher — and helps make successful students, as well.”
Anyone who knows an administrative assistant understands that they are some of the hardest working people in a school, and Debra Brannon is no different. She is devoted to enhancing students’ school experience, and she has done that in a variety of roles.
Brannon has been working at St. Charles North High School since it opened in 2000. She has been the receptionist, secretary, and is now the administrative assistant to the athletic director.
“I always make sure to ask the students how their games went to make sure they get recognition of their athletics,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about. We’re here to make the students feel special.
It is easy to think of a librarian as quiet person who sits behind a desk. But Bruce Fraser of West Aurora High School is living proof that this stereotype is anything but true.
Fraser has been a library information specialist at West Aurora High School for the past 24 years and is also the varsity tennis coach. On a typical day, Fraser can be found interacting with students and teachers, helping them navigate the library and the vast amounts of information it contains, while helping them with media literacy.
“Everything comes down to the student,” Fraser said. “It comes down to showing them that you care about them not just academically, but individually. Each day we get the opportunity to show students the value of education and how it can help them improve their lives.”
When you walk into Angellica Ahng’s classroom, you see her teaching students more than just basic science principles. She is also teaching them how to become good citizens and helping them build strong foundations for their educational lives.
Ahng has been teaching seventh-grade science at Cowherd Middle School in East Aurora for the past three years. One reason she loves teaching middle school is that she has the opportunity to help students grow in a major part of their lives.
“I want them to explore and think big-picture,” Ahng said. “I want them to understand that science is not just black-and-white, but that there are a lot of gray areas, too, where so many new discoveries can be made.”
Since she was a little girl, Ivonne Serrano knew she wanted to be a teacher. She vividly remembers her kindergarten teacher and the way that teacher got her excited about learning.
Today, as a preschool teacher at O’Donnell Elementary School in East Aurora, all Serrano wants to do is pass on that excitement to future generations.
Serrano has been working at O’Donnell Elementary for the past seven years. Each day she walks into the building, she is driven to help her young students connect with one another and lay the foundation of their education.
“At the beginning of the year, we do a unit on family and talk about how we have a family at home and at school,” Serrano said. “We talk about ways to be loving and caring to our families, and that helps build a strong connection with my students.”
While students need physical exercise to keep their bodies healthy, they also need to find ways to exercise their brains. Mary Jensen uses music to help students in Batavia do exactly that.
Jensen has been the music teacher at Alice Gustafson Elementary School for 16 years. In her classroom, she gives students the opportunity to learn how to make music; creating sounds and rhythms that exercise their minds.
“When the students can feel that happy connection to school and a teacher, they are able to look back on the positive connection, and maybe it will help them later in their lives,” she said.
Walk into Amy O’Herron’s classroom, and you will see her talking with students about school and their personal lives. The way she forms these relationships seems like second nature, and any observer can tell she genuinely cares about her students.
O’Herron is one of the sixth-grade math teachers at Carpentersville Middle School. During her time at Carpentersville Middle School, she has been able to develop a strong rapport with her colleagues and students through class time and extracurriculars.
“Although the students often come with baggage, they develop a connection with us as teachers,” she said. “We want to make sure that we can offer them a place where they feel like they are welcome and respected.”
As a teacher, one thing you need to be aware of is that each student has a different learning style. Discovering the individual learning style of each student is one of Mike Schmidt’s great strengths.
Schmidt has taught social studies at Burlington-Central High School for the past 26 years. He is a Burlington Rocket to the core and has been a member of the community since he was a high school student at Burlington-Central.
“When I teach, it’s not just about what’s in the book,” he said. “I try to help students see that learning isn’t just about education and standards, but about life lessons, as well.”
As a school administrator, Suzanne Johnson has a lot on her plate. Each day, she walks into the district office determined to find new ways to support the students of U-46.
For the past four years, Johnson been working at U-46 as the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. Before that, she was the principal at Bartlett High School.
“Our students are only going to have one April 3, 2017,” she said on the day of our meeting. “So I think it’s upon all of us to provide the best April 3 we can. All of those days add up in your education, and we want them all to be as special as possible.”
Checkout all the nominees:
- Week 1: Meet 9 Amazing Educators from Geneva, East Aurora, and U-46
- Week 2: Meet 8 Great Educators from West Aurora, D300, and U-46
- Week 3: Meet 9 Brilliant Educators from St. Charles, East Aurora, and Kaneland
- Week 4: Meet 9 Shining Educators from D300, Kaneland 302, Central 301, and East Aurora 131
- Week 5: Meet 9 Stellar Educators from St. Charles, Batavia, East Aurora, and U-46
About the Kane County Regional Office of Education
Led by Regional Superintendent of Schools Patricia Dal Santo, the Kane County ROE is located in Geneva and serves nine school districts. From teacher licensure assistance to professional development, the ROE’s mission is to advocate for education, provide leadership and perform regulatory functions. Learn more about the ROE’s offerings on Facebook, Twitter and by signing up for the semimonthly newsletter.