Teacher Appreciation: Readers Nominate Educators for ‘2021 Thank You, Teachers’

Teacher Appreciation: Readers Nominate Educators for ‘2021 Thank You, Teachers’

- in 2021 Editions, Education, Magazine, May 2021

This year has been difficult for teachers and educators across Northeast Ohio. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed classroom responsibilities, whether that means teaching virtually, ensuring additional safety protocols are in place, and working with students who might need extra support due to the challenges of the pandemic. 

So this year, we sent out a call for readers to nominate teachers whom they wanted to thank for going above and beyond. 

While we only can feature a few of them, we also want to express our appreciation to all teachers — and to our readers who took the time to support their educators.


Dr. Rickel with student Emma Ariyajasingam. PHOTO SUBMITTED BY Saint Joseph Parish School


Dr. Todd Rickel

Eighth-grade teacher at Saint Joseph Parish School in Cuyahoga Falls

Dr. Rickel was nominated by Emma Crissman and Emma Ariyajasingam

When did you start teaching and why did you become a teacher?

This is my third year teaching middle school and it has been amazing. Most of my career has been in higher education or business. It sounds corny, but I was literally called to teach. Some of the most important people in my early life, especially in elementary school, were teachers. It just feels right.

What’s the best thing about teaching?

That’s an easy question to answer: it’s all about the students. I would not give up my evenings and most weekends for the paperwork and pay if it were not for the students. I could do other things for more money and more free time! My students energize me, make me feel young, and make me feel like what I do actually matters more than at any other time in my life.

Student Emma Crissman and Dr. Rickel


What were some of the teaching challenges this year and how did you overcome them?

My background is online and remote learning. I was better prepared to handle what COVID dropped in our laps this year than most teachers, and still I have been overwhelmed with the work, complexity and difficulty of this year. It has been a time of stretching and learning, for sure! Our teachers (and principal) joined forces to help and support each other this year. It was quite amazing. We were all pushed out of our comfort zones and we have all gotten stronger because of it, but it has been quite difficult on our families and our own expectations.

What are you looking forward to this summer?

I am planning to spend more time with family in the early weeks of summer. Our significant others have sacrificed a lot for us as teachers this year and are unspoken heroes. My wife has been a wonderful source of encouragement for me and I’d like to spend some time with her, my kids and parents. I’ll get in some quiet reading, some fishing, and get outside without a mask on as often as possible.



Michelle Micale with student Laila.  Photo submitted by Euclid City Schools

Michelle Micale

Second-grade teacher at Chardon Hills STEM School — Euclid City Schools

Mrs. Micale was nominated by Latiesa Kirkpatrick, mom of Laila 


When did you start teaching and  why did you become a teacher?

I started out as a dance teacher at age 17. I loved teaching children so much that I decided I wanted to become a school teacher. I wanted to be able to reach children in a different way.  I wanted to help them realize that everyone can learn, and can succeed at anything they strive to do. I have now been a public school teacher for 25 years.

What’s the best thing about teaching?

It is one of the most rewarding careers you can have! It is the best feeling when you see the growth your students make from the beginning of the year to the end. The other best part is seeing the smiling faces of the children when they have been successful.

What were some of the teaching challenges this year and how did you overcome them?

Virtual teaching was a major challenge for everyone. This was a year of flexibility. We started virtual, then hybrid, then virtual, then hybrid, and finally all together five days a week. I overcame these challenges with the assistance of my awesome team and staff at Chardon Hills STEM School. We supported each other through all the challenges by helping, learning and collaborating together. We also kept a positive attitude and took things in stride.

What are you looking forward to this summer?

I look forward to relaxing, rejuvenating and spending quality time with my family.  



Trisha Janowitz with student Dominic Velotta. PHOTO SUBMITTED BY St. Bernadette Elementary School

Trish Janowitz

Preschool teacher at  St. Bernadette Elementary School in Westlake

Mrs. Janowitz was nominated by Lisa Velotta, mom of Dominic

When did you start teaching and  why did you become a teacher?

I have been teaching for about 20 years. I always knew I would teach, but did not expect it to be preschool. I love to watch the children grow in confidence and ability when they master a new task. I love to watch them try something new, be apprehensive and grow in their eagerness to explore. Watching the children learn to love learning and watching their excitement bloom is what drew me to preschool.

What’s the best thing about teaching?

I have been at St. Bernadette Preschool since we opened eight years ago. Helping to start a brand new preschool was very exciting and watching the children grow along with the preschool is incredibly rewarding. I see old preschool friends in the halls daily, and many of the children stop to chat with me. I cannot begin to tell you how fulfilling it is to see one of the friends who is big, like (age) 10, or even in middle school want to tell me about what is exciting in their day, or send me air hugs.

What were some of the teaching challenges this year and how did you overcome them?

This year has been a challenge to everyone, including the children. Not everyone understands that children feel our stress and they are watching when we don’t realize it.  As excited as the children are to learn, they are also excited to have a different voice, a different environment, and to be around other children. This can add to the havoc that we call preschool. I keep it fun and I keep moving. “Janowisms,” as a previous parent named them, are used daily to to keep the children focused and to let them know, “Is it a big problem, a small problem, or hardly worth mentioning?” Young children easily get overwhelmed by details and this saying helps calm them down. I have overheard the children making this comment to one another. The favorite Janowism is “ay, caramba!” If I have dropped something while the friends are playing, together they sing, “ay, caramba.” By having a predictable, fun routine and crazy sayings, this helps the children to know what to expect in a time of uncertainty.

What are you looking forward to this summer?

This summer we are planning to go to Tennessee with extended family and friends. I am looking forward to downtime, but I can never turn my teacher’s brain off. I am always looking for new activities, new ways to use materials, and ways to bring a smile to my children’s faces. My daughter will be a senior in college, and I am hoping to spend time with her and my husband. Like everyone else, I hope that this pandemic will end soon, because Disney World is calling me. We are hoping to go this fall.



Students, Vincent and Natalie with Ms. Wallenhorst. Photo Submitted By Saint Columbkille School

Mary Wallenhorst

Fourth-grade teacher at St. Columbkille School in Parma

Mrs. Wallenhorst was nominated by Denise Costanzo, mom of Vincent and Natalie

When did you start teaching and  why did you become a teacher?

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher growing up. One of my major inspirations was my dad, who taught freshman world history for 40 years. His passion for his content and his dedication to his students are motivation for me to continue to learn and grow as an educator. I started my teaching career the 2012-13 school year after graduating from college with my teaching degree.

What’s the best thing about teaching?

The best thing about teaching is building relationships with my students throughout the year. I love finding out about their favorite book series or the sport they love to play. I also think it is amazing to watch them grow and see them master a concept and become more confident learners!

What were some of the teaching challenges this year and how did you overcome them?

It was challenging at the beginning of the year to navigate the changing health standards to keep everyone as safe as possible. The team of teachers I worked with decided it would be safest not to have the students switch from class to class. However, it was interesting to be able to see how each teacher sets up and organizes their classroom. Hybrid teaching with in-person and virtual students presented many challenges as well, but I have learned so many new technology tools to use in the classroom. 

What are you looking forward to this summer?

I am looking forward to spending more time with my family, reading some good books and exploring the metroparks.  


Readers also nominated these teachers for their efforts!

Katie Preto: Kindergarten teacher at St. Bernadette Elementary School in Westlake

Mallory Raines: Fifth-grade teacher at Saint Joseph Parish School in Cuyahoga Falls

Elizabeth Hajduk: Second-grade teacher at St. Bernadette Elementary School in Westlake

Kayla Lesiak: Fifth-grade teacher at St. Bernadette Elementary School in Westlake

Carolyn Hartman: Fifth-grade teacher at St. Columbkille School in Parma

Kelsey Herideen: Preschool/Pre-K teacher at St. Joseph Parish School in Cuyahoga Falls

Debbie Chinchar: First-grade teacher at St. Bernadette Elementary School in Westlake 

About the author

Angela Gartner has been the editor at Northeast Ohio Parent Magazine since 2014. She has won local and national awards for her features, columns and photography over the years. Previously, her work appeared in publications including The News-Herald, Sun Newspapers and The Chicago Tribune. She grew up in Northeast Ohio and is a mom of two boys. The whole family is busy every weekend with sports and finding new happenings around the region. She is also a board member and past president at the Cleveland Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She loves reading, writing poetry and taking the family's Scottish Terrier on walks.

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