For Immediate Release
October 18, 2008

Cicero elementary teacher named 2008-2009 Illinois Teacher of the Year

Former lawyer turned teacher is new ambassador for state’s teachers

2008-2009 Teacher of the - Linda Smerge PEORIA—Linda Smerge, a second grade teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Cicero, has been named Illinois Teacher of the Year. The Illinois State Board of Education chose Smerge from 9 finalists at the 34th annual Those Who Excel/Illinois Teacher of the Year banquet. Smerge will spend 2009 as an education ambassador speaking with educators about her experiences and representing Illinois in the National Teacher of the Year program. 

“Linda’s passion and commitment to teaching are firmly rooted in her belief that all children can learn and that she has the ability to help them make a better life for themselves,” said Deputy State Superintendent of Education, Susan Morrison.  “Linda’s dedication and her ability to bring out the best in everyone around her will make her an excellent representative of our teachers across the state.”

Smerge decided to leave a lucrative law practice after 13 years because of a feeling something was missing in her life.  After what she describes as an intensive self-evaluation, she realized that her true calling was in the classroom.

Smerge said there were numerous bumps in the road during her transition from the law to the classroom, but her overwhelming desire to make a real difference in children’s lives kept Smerge focused on her goal.  In August 2001, Smerge joined the faculty at Wilson School, accepting the challenge of a first and second grade special education classroom.

This classroom was a new concept, combining students with a wide array of disabilities, and although materials had been ordered, they didn’t arrive in time for the opening of school but Smerge’s energy and determination prevailed. She was able to ensure her students were engaged and on task by continuously changing activities to maintain their interest. 

Ruth Meissen, the 2008 Illinois Teacher of the Year and Linda Smerge the 2008-2009 Teacher of the YearSmerge has high expectations of her students and herself and does not accept failure, helping her students any way she can, convincing parents to allow their children to remain after school with her to receive extra help, especially with reading.  Her relationships with her students and their parents form the foundation of the teaching and learning that take place all day everyday in her classroom. 

“She has a passion to teach and makes it the number one priority in her life,” said fellow teacher Virginia Bennett.   “She is thoughtful and caring and goes out of her way to help the students, staff and parents at Wilson School.”

Smerge holds an elementary education degree, a master’s degree in early childhood education, and a law degree from Northern Illinois University.

As Illinois Teacher of the Year, Smerge will have the opportunity to share her knowledge and expertise outside the classroom.  She will spend the 2009 spring semester speaking at teacher workshops, educational conferences, and civic/community meetings.  She will receive a lifetime tuition waiver to state universities and a one-semester paid leave to pursue coursework or develop an educational project that will benefit students statewide.  In addition, she will represent Illinois at the NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama and in the National Teacher of the Year program sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers and ING.  Linda will also receive products from SMARTer Kids.