Nicole Burak, Language and Learning Delayed Teacher at Cedar Grove Elementary School, was voted Teacher of the Year in Toms River, 2021

Interviewer’s Note: When I found out that Mrs. Burak was honored as Teacher of the Year at the end of 2020, I knew exactly who I wanted to be the first 2021 feature article. Mrs. Burak was my own son’s teacher for three years. She is a special education teacher and my son Jacob had her from kindergarten through second grade. When he came to the class he wasn’t able to speak well, and had other challenges. Nevertheless, Mrs. Burak completely amazed my wife and me by how she helped him to grow. Not just as a student, but as a person, as a human being. Mrs. Burak doesn’t just educate her students, she reaches deep into their hearts and shows them who they are, because she SEES each student that so many other people would just walk by. It is my honor and my privilege to use this interview series to highlight not just a fantastic teacher, but also a truly wonderful and inspirational human being.

“I was teaching at home. My two daughters – who are twins, both 9,- were in separate rooms doing their schoolwork when my school made the announcement that I won the Teacher of the Year Award for 2021. I was shocked!  The school sent out questionnaires on behalf of each teacher to staff and parents at the school, and then the results of that questionnaire were voted on by a committee. After the announcement, the amount of congratulations from colleagues and parents was just so heartwarming for me, and I appreciated it so much. I am proud of being a special ed teacher who got the award. I am always just in my classroom doing my thing, and to be acknowledged like that is so nice.

“My daughters go to school where I teach, so when they heard the announcement over the school’s intercom at the same time as I did, I heard them yelling because they were so excited too. They are especially excited because I get a ‘cool parking spot.’ But my daughters seeing me being acknowledged like this is important to me. I come from a very warm, loving family that encouraged me to find my way, to find my path and do what I love. To this very day, I am still encouraged by my family to do that. And I want to do that for my daughters, and instill in them that hard work is important, and encourage them to go down any path they want to go down. I will always encourage them. Now that we are all home together, most of the time, they are fond of asking me, ‘What are you working on for class?’ Or, ‘What games are you going to have your students play? Can we help?’ I love that they are so involved.

  • Interview by Gregory Andrus

You may also be interested in reading other Teacher Stories, like the story Rick Carr, Lecturer, Ocean County College tells about the life-changing lesson he learned that he passes on to his students or the experience of a Kindergarten teacher in Neptune, NJ.

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