Middle-grades language arts educator celebrates award for inspired teaching

Now in her ninth year as a seventh-grade English language teacher at Summit Hill Junior High School in Frankfort, IL, Sara Szewczyk was flattered and excited to be nominated by the school’s principal in Fall 2022 for the state’s highest K-12 teaching honor. A few months later, Szewczyk was surprised with the announcement that she had been chosen South Suburbs Regional Teacher of the Year.

“I feel so honored that all the dedication, hard work and intention that I have put into my teaching practices and classroom have been recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education with this incredible award,” says Szewczyk.

A mid-career educator who strives to grow continuously in her capacity to create an inclusive and student-centered experience, Szewczyk understood the professional and personal benefits of pursuing a master’s degree. After carefully researching her options for earning a degree while continuing to teach, Sara was ultimately drawn to Concordia-Chicago‘s curriculum and instruction program.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) honored the 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year cohort at a reception in Bloomington-Normal on Feb. 25, 2023. Left to right: Dr. Steven Isoye MA ’95, ISBE Board Chairman and 1998 Illinois Teacher of the Year; Sara (Pustz) Szewczyk MA ’20; Dr. Tony Sanders, Illinois State Superintendent of Education.

“CUC has a fantastic reputation for a well-developed C&I program with rigorous and thoughtful courses for educators who are still in the classroom,” notes Szewczyk. Her final-year action research study project exploring culturally responsive pedagogy and multicultural literacy is now being road-tested and fine-tuned in a daily classroom environment. Sara credits her CUC courses for equipping her to apply social justice principles in the classroom while promoting individual students’ social-emotional learning.

“I hope to achieve creating a classroom environment that allows all students to grow in confidence to become an even better version of themselves,” Sara explains. “Seeing the growth my students make in their academic and emotional intelligence inspires me every day as their teacher.”

Sara is proud to be one of 13 Illinois Regional Teachers of the Year, a select group from which the 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year will be chosen. “Winning South Suburbs Regional Teacher of the Year is such a huge career milestone and privilege that I am so proud of achieving,” Szewczyk reflects. “Like so many teachers, I put my heart and soul into my curriculum, instruction and school to best serve my students, and I am so humbled to join other amazing educators as Teacher of the Year!”