When it came time for Maddie Martinez to nominate a favorite teacher for an award, she didn’t hesitate in nominating “Mrs. Smoke,” the nickname for Andover Middle School’s Dyane Smokorowski.
“I said how good of a teacher she is and how she is a one-of-a-kind teacher,” Martinez, a freshman at Andover High School, said of Smokorowski, an eighth-grade advanced language arts teacher.
“She had a major impact in what I want to do with my life.”
Martinez’s words paid off because Smokorowski was named this weekend as the 2013 Kansas Teacher of the Year by the Kansas State Department of Education.
As soon as Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker made the announcement at a gathering of 400 state education officials in Wichita on Saturday, the Andover contingent at the ceremony erupted. Tweeting and Facebooking began immediately. It is the first time in the Andover school district’s history that one of its own had won the award.
“We had three tables of staff members and board members there and all of us about hit the ceiling,” said Andover superintendent Mark Evans.
“We just love her. She gives her all every day. Kids love her. Parents love her. I’m still walking on Cloud Nine for her.”
And when Smokorowski went out to celebrate the award at the Orange Leaf on East Central – just to have a little pineapple-peach combination – she was mobbed within minutes by Andover students and parents congratulating her.
Smokorowski was one of eight semifinalists narrowed from a field of 91 nominations. She is now eligible to participate in the National Teacher of the Year competition.
“I am prejudiced enough to presume she will win that, too,” Evans said Sunday. “She is a great representative for our state.”
Smokorowski, 40, said she has been teaching for the past 15 years, the last five at Andover. She has also taught in the Wichita and Renwick school districts.
“My philosophy of education is to have students create personal connections to learning through global collaboration,” Smokorowski said.
What that means is that it isn’t all that unusual to have students interviewing their state senators and reaching around the globe to interview movie, video game and computer experts to help ignite their own passions in learning.
“Our students partner with experts in industry, museums and other classrooms around the world in order to understand their curriculum better,” Smokorowski said.
Currently her students are creating a video game application based on the book “Tom Sawyer.” They’ve already talked with a manager in Disney animation and a video game designer about the game.
And so, what will she say to her students on Monday? Well, first, they are all getting homemade chocolate chip cookies.
“I call them ‘Smoke cookies,’ ” Smokorowski said. “I want to celebrate the kids.
“This gift is not mine; it belongs to every student and teacher in Andover. They are all going to get a piece of this experience.”