President Obama named Ms. Mieliwocki the 2012 National Teacher of the Year in a ceremony at the White House last week. In October, she won Los Angeles County teacher of the year; a month later, she became one of five finalists in the national competition.
By her own admission, she took the long way to teaching, which was also the profession of both her parents. She considered becoming a lawyer, tried her hand at publishing, and dabbled in floral design and event planning before becoming a teacher. She teaches at Luther Burbank Middle School in Los Angeles, where she plans lessons, hosts family nights, maintains a class Facebook page, and generally holds herself and her class to the highest possible standard.
"Rebecca is the definition of above and beyond," the president said.
The teacher of the year herself disagrees: "I am not the best teacher in America -- there isn't one," she said. "All across this nation there are millions of teachers who do the work that I do and many do it better ... our children are our future and that I have a hand in guiding and shaping that future compels me to make every minute, every lesson, every moment with them count."
She described the other winners of the state level competition as the most "dedicated, intelligent, compassionate, hardworking group of professionals you will never meet."
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