New Haven Teacher of the Year Has “a Heart for the City”
New Haven’s teacher of the year for 2021 knew she wanted to be in the classroom at age 5. “I used to play teacher with my cousins,” said Melanie Thomas, now a third-grade teacher at Truman School. “I always knew it was a gift I had.”
Thomas grew up in Bridgeport, “so I have a heart for the city,” she said. “That was the population I wanted to work with.
“I know the challenges many of our kids face,” Thomas added. “I want them to know, even though a lot of things could be happening, they have the potential to do great things. I am an example. They can see me and say, ‘I can do that too’.”
Thomas joined the New Haven school district in 2012, right out of college, and started as a bilingual teacher in the third grade at Truman.
Thomas explains her love for teaching third grade this way: “The students are so independent, yet they still rely on us. They still need us. And I love their curiosity.”
In her letter nominating Thomas for teacher of the year, Truman Principal Kathleen Mattern cited her leadership. Soon after Thomas arrived, she developed and implemented a math workshop in her classroom. Based upon its success, she then modeled it for her colleagues within the school and at district-level professional development meetings.
During the last academic year Thomas quickly transformed her in-person classroom to a successful distance learning and hybrid format, Mattern wrote. She engaged her students by creating a Google Classroom platform that integrated academics and social-emotional learning and supported the diverse needs of her students.
In March 2021 Thomas was appointed as a member of the State of Connecticut’s Accelerate CT Educational Task Force. That group met over the spring and summer to identify ways to enhance learning in the upcoming school year. “Nothing can replace in-person learning,” Thomas said, “but we learned some things that worked online. Our goal was to incorporate technology in an informed way, so as to enhance in-person instruction.”
Asked what words of advice she might share with fellow teachers, Thomas said: “This is a challenging year for all of us, as we work with students who missed instruction. We can face our challenges together. Remember why we do this. Lean on each other for encouragement. Ask for help. Remain optimistic.”