On November 10, Jim Merriner of the State Board of Education awarded the honor of 2014 Teacher of the Year to Dillingham K-5 reading teacher Denise Lisac. Lisac is the fifth Dillingam teacher to earn the title since 1963.
On an ordinary afternoon, Denise Lisac can be found in the fourth and fifth grade classrooms, assisting students with reading assignments. Today, she’s teaching a group of enthralled fourth graders the illustrious history of dude ranching.
Lisac was recently named Alaska’s Teacher of the Year for 2014, and is the fifth Teacher of the Year to come from Dillingham City Schools.
“It’s kind of unbelievable,” said Lisac in a recent interview. “It’s a great honor for the community, and I’m proud to represent our school and our state.”
Her colleagues say she is among the best of the best, but in her more than 3 decades of quiet, committed service as an educator, Lisac says worrying about recognition has never been part of the job.
“I teach because I really enjoy it. I like coming to school every day and being with the kids,” she said. “I really wish this award could go to more people. It’s hard to say, ‘Well, this award can only go to one person, and I should be the one,’ because there are just a lot of really good teachers.”
State teacher of the year nominees have the often difficult task of selling their attributes to the state’s committee of educators. Lisac told them she has a simple philosophy that works: a strong sense of community is necessary for children’s success in the classroom.
“I always started off my classes with that in mind. Students should work cooperatively with each other, so that they’re really familiar with one another, and work better together.” Lisac said.
As a reading teacher, Lisac has what she calls the rare privilege of taking her personality classroom to classroom, sharing a love of reading with students, like those fourth graders.
“Well, what do you think they’re going to do with those cattle?” Lisac asked one student.
“They could either ride ’em or milk ’em,” said the student. After another moment of thought, the student added, “Or cook ’em!”
As teacher of the year, Lisac will bring some yet to be named technology back to the school district, gets to offer a scholarship to one student, will speak at conferences and workshops as Alaska’s top educator and will to travel to Washington DC, meet the president, and could be named the nation’s teacher of the year.
“This is pretty amazing, I can’t imagine that!” Lisac said, laughing.
For Lisac, the award is certainly an honor, but she says that like most teachers, the real reward is watching as students grow up and progress. In first grade, Ms. Lisac was my teacher.
“For me, it is so wonderful to watch my students from first grade grow up and graduate and do such wonderful things,” Lisac said. “It makes me proud that you’re interviewing me for KDLG, and you’re one of my past students.”