2015 West Hartford Teacher of the Year
TOY Nomination Letter
July 9, 2015
To whom it may concern:
Vocation. Superior, inspired, transformative teaching begins with vocation. And vocation begins with the human heart.
Current education policy mistakenly prejudices numerical ways of knowing over intuitive ones. Driven by data and quantification, many grasp at numbers as if they were so many toeholds on the side of some mountain of “progress.” Real teaching is not like this.
Instead, real teaching is about intellectual and emotional connectedness. It is about the heart. And it requires courage. In the nearly 15 years I’ve known Jennifer Lanese, all I have ever seen between her and her students is heart and courage. Simply put, she is among the finest teachers I have worked with in my 25 year teaching career.
At her open classroom door every day, Jen greets each and every student with a quick smile and a kind word. No one gains entry into her room without these, without being seen and heard – in every sense of these words. These are her toeholds.
And she and her students grip these as the work together, moving through all that is joyful and thought-provoking and illuminating in English. They read, they laugh, they revise, they share, and they take risks – always together, always learning.
Jen’s deepest commitment is to making space for everyone. She relentlessly pursues this commitment both in and outside the classroom. AIDS Awareness club, Gay-Straight Alliance, Peace Club and Action Club, each of these is an incarnation of her vocation to teach by example thereby opening up space for all.
I admire her every day as I watch her students smile as they head into class; place posters around the building welcoming new members to join a new club; cart in mounds of food for the custodian appreciation breakfast; lead tolerance workshops on Human Rights Day; pack their bags for Camp Anytown, raise their voices against injustice; take courageous stands in the face of administrative disapproval; and receive state and national recognition for their writing.
In short, Jen is authentic, teaching with integrity every day from her truest self. She’s a teacher’s teacher, the one that you want your own child to have because you are certain that your child will not simply be taught, but instead will be cared for. In selecting her, you will truly be honoring the best of what teaching can be: a life-giving vocation which transforms our world one heart at a time.