ESL Teacher Earns New York State Teacher of the Year Honors

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Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

Second grade ESL teacher Thomas Whaley has earned the New York State Teacher of the Year Award for his work with students at Canaan Elementary School in Rye Brook, New York. The New York State Elementary Classroom Teachers Association awarded Whaley with the prestigious award last month after a review of thousands of applications from around the state of New York by a committee of several Association officials. The NYSECTA is a state organization whose purpose is the professional development of elementary classroom teachers.

Whaley is the only teacher who has taught both an elementary grade level as well as ESL classes to win the award.

Whaley said that he was nominated for the award over the summer by a member of the Rye Brook community who wished to remain anonymous. Whaley himself has not been told who the nominator is and he doubts that he will ever know, but says he doesn’t mind the mystery.

The application process that followed his nomination consisted of a line of intense questioning that Whaley says he was admittedly a bit overwhelmed by. After the process played out for a while, however, he says that he began to derive enjoyment from it saying that it was a way for him to “take inventory” of his career to date and reflect on the things he feels he has done well and the things he could improve upon.

Whaley stated that it is his firm belief that he was chosen for the award primarily because of his work with ESL students in conjunction with his well-documented community outreach efforts. He has been actively involved in the development of math enrichment programs for ESL students both at Canaan Elementary as well as at schools throughout the Rye Brook community.

When asked about his plans for the future, Whaley says he may consider an administrative path but that he “couldn’t imagine life without a classroom.”