Back To All News

NIU Alumna Wins National Teaching Award

November 21st, 2013

Melissa Leisner2NIU alumna Melissa Leisner, a seventh-grade English and reading teacher at Prairie Knolls Middle School in Elgin, has won the prestigious Milken National Educator Award.

The honor, which includes an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000, was dubbed “The Oscars of Teaching” by Teacher Magazine.

Leisner is the only teacher in Illinois to be honored with a 2013 Milken Educator Award, which is bestowed upon up to 40 of the most exceptional educators across the country.

She loves language arts and sharing her contagious passion with her students and colleagues. Constantly creating fresh, exciting lessons and seeking students’ opinions on new approaches, Leisner  creates  “a culture of student engagement, collaboration, high expectations, and fun,” in the words of one admirer.

By tailoring the reading to students’ interests, she instills a sense of confidence and ownership even in struggling learners.

One student proudly shared with Leisner that he’d read three books over the summer – a great accomplishment considering that he had never finished a novel prior to taking her class. She makes a point of getting to know her students as individuals too, assessing their prior knowledge and building from there. Leisner even attends students’ out-of-school activities, and her interest in students continues well after they’ve moved on.

Leisner’s efforts have paid off in test scores. Overall, 65 percent of her students reach the mid-high to high level of achievement as measured by NWEA-MAP testing. Her “YA Café,” in which staff come to read a book aloud and discuss it with students, became a permanent program handled by the school’s library media specialist. She’s even persuaded the entire staff to post signs on their doors to announce what they’re currently reading, sparking conversations with students.

The Milken Educator Awards, conceived by Lowell Milken to attract, retain, and motivate outstanding talent to the teaching profession, is the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program.

Read more at NIUToday.