The teacher I would nominate is Sharon Janulaw, who was my kindergarten teacher at Santa Margarita Elementary School in Marin County, California in 1975. Not only was Mrs. Janulaw innovative, but she treated us like actual people with the ability to think for ourselves and discover worthy things under our own power.
Science lessons were conducted under the quaking aspens in the playground behind the classroom, where silkworms bred. We were in the midst of demographic change in the area post-Vietnam and an influx of immigrants from Korea, among them some of our classmates who spoke little to no English. In response, Mrs. Janulaw taught us the Korean alphabet and numbers as a special lesson every week, which also infused us with a sense of openness to other cultures.
But what I best remember was that Mrs. Janulaw was the first adult to recognize and encourage my incorrigible sense of humor. Many kids then brought lunches that contained sodas (it was the 70s, we didn’t know!). I knew my mother never packed a soda in my Emergency! thermos (it was orange juice, milk or – oddly – iced tea), but Mrs. Janulaw couldn’t have known. I would pretend I couldn’t open my thermos and then walk up to her for help, and shake it in front of her, as though the ‘soda’ inside would spurt everywhere (we were learning chemistry and physics!). I tricked her the first time, but she kept playing along with the same dumb joke for months.
I also remember when the class thug Shannon cut in line for the punching bag in the playground one day, and I objected, perhaps loudly. Shannon proceeded to rip the strawberry-themed dress I was wearing (which my mother had made for me) clean off my body. In my tears, Mrs. Janulaw swooped me up and with the help of about 50 safety pins, restored my dignity. Shannon went to the principal’s office. My sense of justice has been guided by this ever since. Oh, and Mrs. Janulaw was also very stylish and I remember I totally wanted a flip hairdo like hers.
Notably, Mrs. Janulaw has gone on to teach teachers in the intervening 36 years. She founded the North Bay Science Project to teach the art of teaching science. She was for many years the chief science specialist with the Sonoma County Office of Education. Sharon has co-authored “Making Connections,” which is a publication that helps teachers implement theCalifornia Science Standards. Currently, she is the President of the California Science Teachers Association and serves on the Board of Trustees for John Denver’s Windstar Foundation.
You can find out more on her page at the Sonoma County Department of Education.
Deadline to enter is Friday, May 27. Check out contest guidelines here.