CLINTON — An educator who earns praise for her instructional methods, reaching students at all ability levels, has been named an Amazing Teacher of the Month.
Mary Lesko Kokenakes taught many years at Madison High School but this year began teaching English at Clinton High School to be a bit closer to home.
She was nominated in the Amazing Teacher Awards promotion that is live on the Daily Telegram website at lenconnect.gannettcontests.com/Amazing-Teachers/rounds/1/gallery. It is a national award through Gannett publications, and the program is sponsored by McDonald’s. Lesko Kokenakes received a $5,000 check Nov. 17 at the McDonald’s on South Main Street in Adrian.
Kokenakes’ goal to become a teacher began while eagerly reading books as a child.
“When the newsprint Scholastic catalogs got sent home, I remember circling all the books I wanted,” Kokenakes said.
“I was blessed to have many inspiring educators,” she said. “The best teachers I have cared deeply about their students, were passionate about their content, and found ways to reach every student in the room. I aspire to emulate them in my own classroom. And as I grew older, my parents played a larger role in my decision to pursue education as I was able to more gratefully reflect on my firsthand experience of what a young person could be capable of accomplishing with adults who are caring, committed and active in their lives.”
Now, Kokenakes is inspired by her own students’ progress every day.
“I absolutely love having a ‘front-row seat’ to this growth, and feel blessed to play a role in helping them with that process,” Kokenakes said, adding she is thrilled and humbled by the Amazing Teacher recognition. “There are so many wonderful educators out there who are all deserving of this kind of recognition, especially after the past few years, but I am very honored to be named an ‘amazing teacher’ out of the many amazing teachers out there.”
Clinton High School Principal Katie Bennett said that Kokenakes is a great worker and teacher.
“She comes to work each day prepared and eager to teach her students. She has great ideas and is always willing to help others,” Bennett said. “Mary is dedicated to her students and her work. She’s passionate and loves what she does. Students respect her and enjoy taking her classes.”
Bennett said that Kokenakes’ students were better for having known her.
“Mary teaches beyond the curriculum and brings in real-world topics. Students are not only learning the curriculum but also life skills,” Bennett said. “I feel it’s (the award) a huge and much deserved honor for Mary. We’ve only had the chance to have Mary in our district for a small amount of time so far, but she’s already showing her skills and impact on student learning.”
Kokenakes graduated in 2007 from Alma College, where he majored in English and played golf. She graduated from Siena Heights University in 2014 with her master’s degree in educational leadership. This is her 16th year of teaching.
She has an interesting teaching philosophy.
“In my opinion, there is a lot of truth to the adage, ‘Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,’ and so for me, one of the most important aspects of my job is investing the time and effort to create a climate that allows for building relationships. It is important for my students to understand that I don’t just care about them academically or as English students but also as people,” Kokenakes said.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Clinton High School teacher receives national ‘Amazing Teacher’ award