Seventh grade English teacher at the Shelton Intermediate School Penny Zhitomi says she was shocked and nervous to hear that she was nominated for the 2018-19 Teacher of the Year award last December. Now she’s honored to learn that she had won it.
“It was tough to even move forward with this award process because I was scared of the notoriety that comes along with it,” said Zhitomi. “I feel like every teacher is special.”
“I take a lot of pride in this award,” said Zhitomi. “The atmosphere in the world is very hostile so I think that if I can in any way represent Shelton, the other amazing teachers in the community and show that being a teacher is a wonderful career, then I am happy to carry the torch.”
The award was announced by the Connecticut State Department of Education last month.
Zhitomi began her career by teaching fourth-eighth grade at Nathan Hale in New Haven for 11 years before moving to Shelton where she’s been teaching for the past 17 years. She said it was a “culture shock” switching from New Haven to the Shelton school district, but she quickly adapted and embraced the change.
“Kids are kids no matter what or where you are” said Zhitomi.
When asked what she thought it was that separated herself from the other teachers nominated for the award, Zhitomi said she believes that it could be the caring and philanthropic practices that she’s passing down to her students might be part of it. Zhitomi explained that after she took a family volunteer trip to Africa back in 2013 where she volunteered at a school; her life changed both as a person and educator.
“I think it’s maybe in the School of Innovation, the major project that I initiated, but others joined in, called ‘Action with Compassion,” which was designed to help raise $15,000 to drill a well in South Sudan,” said Zhitomi.
Her class has helped to raise nearly $8,000 of the $15,000 goal and Zhitomi said they will make the donation in the near future. She also said her class will continue fund raising next school year to reach the $15,000 mark.
Zhitomi said she’s built a reputation for being a very tough teacher, but her students are able to tell that she’s there to help them learn and become better people.
“You don’t get into this career to make a paycheck and if you do you’re in for a rude awakening,” said Zhitomi. “You get into this career because it’s a calling.”
When Zhitomi isn’t working with her class or team of School of Innovation staff, she said she enjoys spending time with her family and traveling. She has been to all 50 states and five continents.
With nearly three decades of teaching under her belt, Zhitomi said she’s surprised herself in that she doesn’t want to slow down at all, especially after earning an award such as Teacher of the Year.
“Because I know my time is limited I want to do even more,” said Zhitomi. “I want to be more energized, vibrant and active. I think I can go a little higher.”