• Hamburg's NYS Teacher of Year finalist

    "lives & breathes" American history

    The many intriguing characters of early American history provide a way for Hamburg Middle School social studies teacher Jason Steinagle to move beyond the textbook into life lessons for his seventh graders. Within the lives of historic figures, he sees a way to have students appreciate different cultures and perspectives, to advance responsible citizenship, and to have students envision what they could achieve in the future.

    “All this can be done through lessons in history,” said Mr. Steinagle. “I can help shape the thinking of these students as they become adults.”

    Steinagle His passion for teaching and ability to inspire learning have earned accolades for Mr. Steinagle, who was recently named as one of five finalists for New York State Teacher of the Year 2016, under the auspices of the State Education Department. He was honored in Albany in September (pictured). Although the top honor went to a Newburgh teacher, as a finalist Mr. Steinagle hopes to serve as a Teacher Ambassador, participating in professional development and teacher leadership opportunities across the state.

    “I’m humbled,” Mr. Steinagle said of the honor. “It’s great recognition for what we’re doing in Hamburg. Learning and the teaching career should be celebrated whenever possible. It is important work.”

    The nomination process involved endorsements from colleagues, administrators, parents, past and current students, as well as other community members. Mr. Steinagle, who is in his 19th year with Hamburg, and is also a professor in the Graduate School of Education at Canisius College, said he initially doubted that he should complete the application, but was encouraged by wide-ranging support, and welcomed an opportunity to showcase Hamburg. He’s especially appreciative of the encouragement he received from his wife, Jolene Blood, and their children – Gabriel, 15; Moira, 12; and Luke, 9.

    A multi-step application process included letters of support, proof of teaching effectiveness, six essays written by Mr. Steinagle on his philosophy of teaching and major public education issues, teaching observations from the Albany committee and an opportunity to share a teacher’s message of support and solidarity. He also had to document his community involvement illustrating a commitment to strengthening the teaching profession.

    In May, Mr. Steinagle was selected as one of five finalists and the Teacher of the Year Advisory Council conducted an on-site visit to Hamburg to observe his teaching and to interview those acquainted with him. He then appeared before the panel in Albany for a personal interview.

    Mr. Steinagle is grateful for the experience and the opportunity to spread the message that teaching should be celebrated. He defines a teacher as anyone who can motivate and inspire others.

    “At some point, everyone needs a teacher,” he said.

    His teaching strategy is to involve students in the lessons, set realistic goals and provide the resources for them to succeed. He offers students the power of choice. He wants students to feel safe to express their opinions and to be prepared to argue different perspectives. Most of all, he wants them to see the connections between American history and their own lives as they mature with a sense of responsibility.

    To that end, he has organized the school’s annual Civil War Day, which immerses students in interdisciplinary aspects of the War beyond state learning standards. He also coordinates the annual Naturalization Ceremony at school in conjunction with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which allows students to witness candidates from other countries become U.S. citizens. He has been instrumental in arranging African music and dance presentations for students. He hosts guest speakers from government and law enforcement agencies.

    He is also known as a technology innovator, incorporating computer and Internet resources for student use.

    And, to add authenticity to a lesson, he will occasionally dress as a historic figure, such as a Civil War solider or a Founding Father, to tell a story in character.

    “The kids are just glued to it; they love it,” said Middle School Principal Jennifer Giallella.

    She said what makes Mr. Steinagle an exceptional educator is his passion for the content.

    “He loves teaching seventh grade social studies. He lives and breathes it.”

    -- Sept. 24, 2015