Top Teacher Inspires Students to be Smart and Compassionate
“If it wasn’t for Mrs. Quinn, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” East Hartford seventh grader Mya Mason told an assembly of students and state dignitaries at Sunset Ridge School in East Hartford. “She’s a real role model.”
Sixth grade teacher Cara Quinn is no longer a role model just for her own students and school — earlier today she was named 2015 State Teacher of the Year to the thrilled applause of her students and colleagues.
Fellow Sunset Ridge teacher Kim Knapp described Quinn as “a remarkable teacher who makes a very challenging, (yet an extremely fulfilling), profession look easy.” Knapp added that Quinn instills in her students, “a passion for learning and a desire to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Helping others is clearly an important value to Quinn — evidenced not only by her chosen profession, but also by her volunteer work locally and abroad — and it’s something she cultivates in her students as well.
“I want my students to be smart and compassionate,” she said. “My goal is to develop each student’s ability to think critically and creatively so that they may make a unique, positive contribution to enrich the world.”
Quinn said a math unit on ratios and proportions she created last year is an example of her teaching principles at work. In the integrated unit students sold lollipops as part of a school-wide fundraiser — with the goal of raising enough money to pay for a Haitian child’s primary school tuition. Quinn’s students learned important math concepts and also engaged in discussions about human rights, global poverty, and the importance of education.
Because of the students’ hard work, an eight-year-old in Haiti now has the opportunity to attend school, greatly increasing her opportunities in life. Quinn said of her students, “Their perspective on the world has broadened and their compassion for others has deepened.”
“I want my students to be respectful, caring, responsive global citizens,” she added. “I want them to go out into the world, armed with their education, ready to make a difference in their own unique way.”
CEA President Sheila Cohen said, “Teachers are unsung heroes, so it is an inspiration to see an educator being honored today. Cara Quinn truly is a heroine—doing, as she says, ‘whatever it takes to engage her students.’ Ms. Quinn’s dedication should remind all of us that students and teachers across Connecticut are achieving in countless ways every single day. This year’s Teacher of the Year doesn’t only want her students to be smart, she wants them to be compassionate as well. She leads by example with a resume filled with unselfish and altruistic volunteer work side-by-side with remarkable creativity within the classroom.”
East Hartford Education Association President Marcia Ferreira, who went to the University of Connecticut with Quinn, called Quinn a strong voice for urban teachers everywhere. “East Hartford is fortunate to have teachers like Cara educating our students every day.”
Quinn acknowledges that the many pressures put on educators today can make it hard to be a teacher, including “the unceasing emphasis on standardized testing.” She said that testing begets more testing and drains immense amounts of resources from state and local education budgets. “Rather than teaching to a test, our focus could return to teaching to the whole child.”
But she adds, “We cannot give up on our kids. They need something that cannot be measured in an SLO, SBAC or CCSS — something that will truly motivate them to learn. We are that something. We cannot lose sight of the heart of our work and how much we matter to our students.”