Fremd High School Teacher Steve Elza Named 2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year, Encourages Students to Find Home in Education

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Steve Elza speaks to Fremd High School students during an assembly on Oct. 27.

Steve Elza speaks to Fremd High School students during an assembly on Oct. 27.

Steve Elza, an Applied Technology teacher at Fremd High School, was recently named the 2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year. While students and staff gathered for an assembly to honor his accomplishment, Elza kept the focus on his students and his FHS community.

“As the Illinois Teacher of the Year, it doesn’t mean I am the best teacher in Illinois,” he said to FHS students. “You are surrounded by – and I wasn’t kidding when I said – this is truly one of the best families I could be a part of. As a teacher of the year, I am an advocate for all the teachers here and across the state, but more importantly, for each and every one of you.”

With this honor, Elza said his primary focus is to use the award as a way to be an advocate for other teachers and school districts, and to encourage students to find a home in their education.

Elza’s primary focus is to use the award as a way to encourage other teachers and school districts to allow students to find a home in their education.

Elza’s primary focus is to use the award as a way to encourage other teachers and school districts to allow students to find a home in their education.

“My message is finding a home for kids and finding a place where they can find themselves and grow,” he said. “That is my big message. I am here to support all teachers. I have learned that core classes are essential – you need them – but until we give students a home and find a place or program where they can shine, the meaning isn’t there.”

Elza, who has worked in District 211 for seven years, believes that programs such as automotive are a key component to education. He stresses that students in his classes can take the skillset they learn in the classroom, and apply it to a career in that particular field. He also told his students that when he was in high school, he struggled until he found his passion in an automotive classroom.

Steve Elza high-fives his students that are getting ready to compete in a national automotive competition in Las Vegas.

Steve Elza high-fives his students who are getting ready to compete in a national automotive competition in Las Vegas.

“When I was a freshman, sophomore, and part of my junior year, I didn’t have a reason to come to school,” he told students. “I ditched class, I got bad grades, and it wasn’t until I found my passion in automotive that I found a reason to come to school. I found a reason to do well in English, Math, and Science.”

During the next year, Elza will have a busy schedule that includes speaking engagements, traveling to Washington D.C. to meet President Obama, and Space Camp. Despite the schedule, though, he knows he wants to keep his focus on his students, and other teachers in District 211 and throughout the country.

Watch the video below to see Elza accept his award at the “Those Who Excel” awards banquet on Saturday, October 25, in Bloomington, Ill.