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IFT Member Named 2015 Teacher of the Year



Steve Elza, a member of the Northwest Suburban Teachers Union, Local 1211, was named Illinois Teacher of the Year by the Illinois State Board of Education during an awards banquet on October 25. Elza is an automotive technology teacher at William Fremd High School in Palatine.

“Steve is an important role model both for his students, colleagues and for those individuals thinking about a career as a teacher,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “His pathway into teaching, including his experience in being mentored, is an important story for others to hear about as the field of teaching experiences decreased enrollments. As a career technical educator, he also will be able to provide much-needed insights into the preparation of students for high-paying and rewarding careers.” 

Elza said he was a "bad student" in high school until a teacher and mentor provided him with support and guidance. College hadn’t been a part of Elza’s plan until that mentor asked him to visit Southern Illinois University (SIU). He said he “fell in love” with the university, and eventually became the first person in his family to attend college and graduate.

He decided to pursue teaching after his mentor encouraged him to apply for a position at the Technology Center of DuPage (TCD), where he had studied in high school. Elza quickly discovered teaching was his dream job.  

ISBE noted that Elza builds relationships with his students just as his mentor did with students at TCD. He’s known for his extraordinary efforts to support each student in his classroom.

"We have to make sure every student has a place in that high school," Elza said. 

Elza graduated from SIU with a Bachelor of Science in automotive technology. He holds two Master of Education degrees from Southern and has earned numerous other certifications. His automotive technology program has achieved National Automotive Technician Education Foundation certification. Only 4 percent of all high schools in the United States achieve this certification. Additionally, Elza has led students to multiple state and national competitions, where his students have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and materials.  

A former student described Steve’s teaching.

“From the basic automotive technology class to the weekly Auto Club, he puts his students before many other priorities and makes many sacrifices for his students. Always promoting school events and participating in any way possible, he teaches the meaning of becoming part of something bigger than yourself.”

The IFT and Local 1211 have a proud history of winners in the annual Teacher of the Year program. In 2013, Local 1211 member Brian Curtin was honored with the award. Other IFT members who have also earned the distinction in recent years include: Ruth Meissen, Local 540 (2007); Linda Smerge, Local 571 (2008); and Kevin Rutter, Local 1 (2009).

Being selected as Illinois’ top educator is a significant accomplishment. This year, more than 230 nominees were reviewed and scored by a selection committee composed of administrators, teachers, and school board members. Principals, faculty, parents, and students submit letters on behalf of candidates as part of the nomination process.

Elza was selected as one only 12 finalists for Teacher of the Year. Finalists were interviewed and videotaped, and those interviews were scored again before going to State Superintendent Koch for a final decision.

As Illinois Teacher of the Year, Elza will have opportunities to share his knowledge and expertise outside the classroom. Beginning in the 2015 spring semester, he will tour the state to speak at teaching workshops, educational conferences, and community meetings. Elza will represent Illinois at the NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., and in the National Teacher of the Year program sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers and ING.

Congratulations to Steve Elza for his outstanding achievement! The IFT is proud to advocate for Steve Elza and the many thousands of other IFT members who make a difference for students every day.





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