NORTH BRANFORD -- The 2017 Connecticut Teacher of the Year is Lauren Danner!
The biology teacher at North Branford High School was presented with the award Tuesday. Danner knew she had won the award, but the school held an assembly to honor her and surprise the school's students.
It's a great honor for the science teacher, who is also the head of the science department at the school. She was previously a lab scientist, but moved over to teaching.
"While I loved working in a lab, I realized that I am too much of a talker and storyteller to be working silently for most of my day," said Danner.
After student teaching, in a middle school, which she loved, Danner was asked to return to her alma mater, North Branford High, as a teacher.
"I was like 'oh my gosh high school students are so big and scary,' " said Danner. "I ended up taking the job and I just fell in love with it and I was like yes because we get to do really great science."
But the honor doesn't necessarily have to do with objective measures like test scores and students' grades. It's more about how much of an impact the teacher has on his or her students.
According to the selection committee, the goal is not to select the "best" teacher. The focus is finding the teacher who the selection committee believes best inspires a love of learning in their students and has distinguished themselves in the profession.
That's something Danner takes to heart. She said she aims at "really getting them to believe they really can achieve anything that they set their minds to, with hard work, a positive attitude and a smile. Always smile."
Danner was chosen from among four finalists, 15 semifinalists, and over 100 district-level Teachers of the Year. A statewide council of former Teachers of the Year and representatives from educational organizations, businesses, and the community conducted the rigorous selection process, which includes on-site visits, candidate applications, interviews, and observations of teaching. Fellow teachers, students, administrators, parents, support staff and others are interviewed as well.
According to students, the honor is well deserved. They say what makes the head of the science department able to connect with kids is the personal anecdotes she uses to explain complex subject matter.
"She always had a story for every lesson," said Sarah Criscuolo, a North Branford junior, who had Danner as a freshman. "I don't know how she does it, but she does. Every single story connected somehow to general science."
Prior to the assembly, Governor Malloy stopped by her biology class and made the announcement to her own students.
Recognition is nothing new for Danner. Four years ago, she earned the school district $10,000 in a national inspirational educator contest.
Danner first became interested in a teaching career as she pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in diagnostic genetic sciences from the University of Connecticut, working as a laboratory teaching assistant for the program. Upon graduating, she worked as a cytogenetic technologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, followed by a cell culture technologist position at Neurogen Corporation, where she was employed for 10 years.
Fueled by a passion of science and learning, she decided to return to school, receiving a Master of Science in Education from the University of New Haven.
She began her teaching career as an intern at Beecher Road School, a prekindergarten through sixth grade elementary school in Woodbridge. Danner completed her student teaching in eighth grade science at Bailey Middle School in West Haven, and she is currently completing her seventh year of teaching in the North Branford School District at the high school.
The Connecticut Teacher of the Year Program began in 1952. Teachers of the Year and finalists serve as teacher ambassadors for public education, and are appointed to committees. They present workshops, speak at education conferences and meetings, address student, civic, college and university, and governmental groups, and operate special programs in accordance with their interests and expertise. The Connecticut Teacher of the Year also represents the state at the national level – participating in national educational forums, National State Teacher of the Year Program planning and networking sessions, and U.S. Department of Education meetings.
The Connecticut Teacher of the Year for 2016 went on to be named National Teacher of the Year. Jahana Hayes of Kennedy High School in Waterbury was honored at the White House for her accomplishments.
The Connecticut Teacher of the Year will join other State Teachers of the Year at a reception hosted by the President at a White House. They are also invited to participate in a national conference in Scottsdale, Arizona and a Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Alabama.