English teacher Michael Fieleke received this year’s Meserve award for excellence in teaching.
By winning the award, Fieleke said the award committee essentially telling him that “things are going pretty well for your students. Here is proof.”
The inspiration for his work comes from his colleagues and “all the energy they all devote to engaging students in creative ways.” He said that he often feels “outclassed by everyone else in this building.”
One of his inspirations is former history teacher Alan MacDougall, who passed away Tuesday, Oct. 23, because his “caring and rebellious approach inspired students for generations.”
Fieleke also named former English department head Brenda Keegan as one of his motivators because she “always had faith in me, even when I had none.”
Finally, he credits former English teacher and “passionate poet” Tom DePeter, who passed away in 2009, because he incited many students to “write from an honest place,” Fieleke said.
However, Fieleke said that, perhaps, his most important source of daily inspiration comes from his students, who are “so ready to engage.” He added, “We have amazing students at this school––amazing young people with sharp minds and big hearts.”
Some of his favorite moments of teaching have been when his students “formulate a question that matters to them and then come to a deep realization in response.” He also said that he loves seeing students smile.
Fieleke earned a bachelor’s degree in English at University of Rochester and a PhD in curriculum and instruction and administration at Boston College. Before becoming a teacher, he worked at a consulting firm for a year, but later quit and enrolled at Boston University, where he earned his Master’s Degree.
He said that he decided to become a high school teacher because “the teen years are just awesome. They are a time when human beings reflect on what matters most to them, on what kind of life they want to live and on what kind of person they want to be.” He continued, “These are the questions that I also love investigating endlessly.”
Teachers, he said, not only get to explore these questions “and many more as we read great books,” but also “get to express our opinions on these matters.”
English department head Melissa Dilworth said that Fieleke is “one of the most dedicated, compassionate, thoughtful and thought-provoking teachers that I have come across at this school. He opens his students up to new ideas.”
She said that all of his classes, whether it is Philosophy as Literature or freshman English, display students “often in a circle, grappling with a difficult work and both responding to his own questions while raising their own.
“You feel a connection and mutual respect in his classroom and see students engaging in a way that shows their desire to learn.”
Dilworth added that Fieleke is always “rethinking, re-evaluating and redoing,” evidencing that he “continues to learn himself.”
“He works every day to meet students where they are, and then supports them to go beyond what they think they’re capable of as students and as human beings.”
Freshman Natalie Bohm, one of Fieleke’s students, attests to students’ engagement in his classes. “When he gives lessons, he lets the students introduce topics,” she said.
Another one of his students, freshman Jen Gately, added that Fieleke is always working to make sure that his students “understand what he’s talking about” and he “doesn’t leave any questions unanswered.”