Rebecca Mieliwocki

Rebecca Mieliwocki teaches her English class to seventh grade students at Luther Middle School in Burbank on Friday, November 4, 2011. Mieliwocki is the 2011 California Teacher of the Year and will be going to the national competition. (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer)

Burbank Unified teacher and longtime Glendale resident Rebecca Mieliwocki was named Thursday as one of four finalists for the 2012 National Teacher of the Year award.

“I have been led by some remarkable people, teachers and administrators alike, from whom I’ve never felt anything but the utmost dedication and respect,” Mieliwocki said. “I have been pushed to be the best teacher I can be, and given opportunities to push kids in creative, exciting ways. When a school district does that for its teachers, it’s no wonder something like this can happen.”

Raised in Napa by two educators, Mieliwocki has spent nine years of her 13-year career with Burbank Unified, where she is currently teaching English at Luther Middle School.

In October, she was recognized as a Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year. One month later, she took the state-wide honor, and was selected by California Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson as one of five California teachers to advance to the national competition.

Now, Mieliwocki is up for the top prize, competing against three other states’ Teacher of the Year honorees from Florida, Alabama and the Department of Defense Education Activity in Italy.

“I am elated that Rebecca, who is remarkably gifted and innovative, is being considered as the nation's next top teacher,” Torlakson said in a statement Thursday. “I nominated her for this prestigious title because she is an inspiration to other teachers as well as her students, who are learning and succeeding due to her tremendous classroom skill.”

Burbank Unified school board President Ted Bunch said he wasn’t at all surprised that the English teacher had advanced to the final round.

“She is a very caring, hard-working teacher,” said Bunch, himself a retired Burbank teacher. “None of us are perfect. But we all strive to be as good as we can. She is one of those who has, and keeps improving and getting better, and has an outstanding classroom that involves her kids.”

The four finalists will travel to Washington, D.C. in March where they will be put through a simulation of what life as national teacher of the year would entail, including press conferences and teaching sessions, Mieliwocki said. The winner will be announced in April.

“It’s not every day you see a public school teacher getting off to our nation’s capital for high-level rounds of interviews and meetings,” Mieliwocki said. “I plan to put my nerves aside and give it my very best. I know I take the support and excitement of my students, their families, my colleagues, and my fellow Californians with me.”

-- Megan O'Neil, Times Community News

Twitter: @megankoneil