For Laura Dabezic, an English teacher at Neuqua Valley High School, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a big challenge. She recalls struggling to teach during remote learning, as the transition from in-person to online to hybrid was confusing. She also has a son, a junior, and a daughter, a freshman. Thus, she felt that there was a different empathy that you have for the children in your classroom when you have kids their age.
As an educator for 21 years, Mrs. Dabezic has prioritized students’ intellectual growth in her classes. Her devotion to making her students confident writers was recently recognized; she was named one of 30 finalists for the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2022. The Golden Apple Foundation, a leading Illinois nonprofit for excellence in teaching and educational leadership, announces outstanding teachers to honor their creativity and commitment each year. The foundation noted that, by means of unique teaching methods, Mr. Dabezic turned “motley crews” of students into “a fierce group of writing superheroes.”
The foundation also states, “[At the beginning of the semester] Instead of grading these essays, the papers are collected as ‘evidence’ to gauge where her new class is at, and which gaps need to be filled. The result pays off two-fold when — just before the end of the course — students are presented once again with their original essays.” It adds, “Dabezic says nothing bolsters her students’ confidence quite like seeing how far they’ve come.”
This school has just been has meant so much to me over the years
— Laura Dabezic
Last winter, Dabezic got a notice from Golden Apple that she had been nominated. She put in the application right before Christmas break, and then in the middle of February, she got an email. “It just kind of took my breath away that I went from a field of over 400 nominated now down to 30,” she recalls. “It’s a lot of attention that I’m not used to getting. I got emails from people whom I had taught at this school and others, with wonderful notes of congratulations.”
After this recognition, she has felt to be more blessed to be part of this community. “Neuqua has meant so much to me over the years. It’s a comfortable and safe place. It’s a community. My dad passed away this year, and while we were going through this, I’m so supported by other teachers and administrators that I work with. When we face hard times, I just feel valued and appreciated. It helps us get through those hard times.”
At Neuqua, Mrs. Dabezic is teaching freshman English, CP English, and AP English. In college, she started off as a business major for two years and switched to education. In the past, she not only coached track and volleyball, but has also directed plays, speech team, and even National Honor Society.
She used to teach seniors but got very attached to her students and felt so sad when they would graduate. “I decided to stick with my juniors so then I have another year to kind of break up with, like, go off to college,” said Mrs. Dabezic.
Currently, she is involved in Interact Club and the theater program. When she teaches Macbeth or Julius Caesar to her junior students, she teaches as if she is directing a show. In this way, students can have more meaningful performances, grasp acting and character motivation, and understand the historical aspects of the works.
Dabezic even has a drawing at her desk that she drew in the first grade. It is her in a rainbow dress holding a book and a ruler. At the top, it says, “I want to be a teacher.” When asked who has inspired her to be an educator, she instantly singled out her humanities teacher in high school. “Humanities are the study of art, history, literature, and philosophy. He introduced us to so many new ideas that I had never heard of or considered. In terms of the way he ran his class, he had a menu, and each quarter you had to pick things off the menu. There was so much choice and opportunity. So I would give a lot of credit to him.”
Even her students agree that Mrs. Dabezic has influenced their education in the best way possible. “I think her teaching is different in the way that she does everything she can in order to relate to her students,” says Anoushka Maller, a junior at Neuqua Valley. “She builds personal relationships with all of them, and then forms her lesson plans around what she knows about her students.”
Dabezic also gives multiple opportunities for students to learn from their mistakes like essay rewrites, which shows how genuinely dedicated she is to see her students succeed. “Mrs. Dabezic’s teaching style has a specific emphasis on fun that I think many teachers don’t really have as well as she does,” says Ethan Lopez, another junior at Neuqua Valley. Ethan adds, “She definitely cares about us and I would be incredibly surprised if any student of hers didn’t say they loved her just as much,”
Mrs. Dabezic’s advice to Neuqua students is, “Just take whatever situation you have, and you just have to make the best of it”.
She has shown her love of teaching to her students, and that dedication has changed Neuqua for the better. She has shown so much care to the students and staff. Neuqua Valley sincerely congratulates Mrs. Dabezic for being selected as a finalist for the Golden Apple Award.
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