March 30, 2012
What makes a good teacher great?
Some say it’s a talent to encourage students to make the most of
their individual abilities. Others insist that it’s the ability to
inspire a love of knowledge that will allow students to become
lifelong learners. Whatever it is, the best teachers leave an
impact that endures well beyond the classroom.
Five exceptional teachers and administrators were recognized for
their achievements at the Seventh Annual Leaders in Education Award
Dinner (L.E.A.D.) on the University’s Queens campus. Those honored
Dorothea Y. Breen ’89SVC, ’99GEd
Immaculate Conception School
Thomas Chadzutko, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Diocese of Brooklyn
Giovanni Durante ’05Ed.D.
Syosset High School
Mary Ellen Minogue ’78Ed, ’81GEd
Sacred Heart Academy
Suzanne A. Viscovich ’93GEd, ’01Ed.D.
“The people who we’re honoring tonight are all great teachers and
administrators,” noted Jerrold Ross, Ph.D., Academic Vice President
for the Staten Island campus and Dean of St. John’s School of
Education. “If they’re administrators now they were great teachers
before, because you cannot be a good administrator unless you’ve
first been an excellent teacher. Teaching is a lifetime commitment
that contributes to the betterment of the community.”
surprisingly, each of the honorees followed a somewhat different
career path into the classroom, and had their own ideas about what
constitutes a great teacher.
Even as a child, Mary Ellen Minogue hoped that one day she would be
privileged to stand in front of a group of students and do what she
could to make learning fun. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” she
said. “My mother tells the story that when I was three years old I
would line my dolls up on the bed and use a pointer to teach them
lessons. Things haven’t changed much since those days, except I
don’t use a pointer anymore. I think a great teacher is one who
inspires a lifelong devotion to learning. There’s so much more to
teaching than just passing out information.”
Giovanni Durante traces his decision to become a teacher
to advice he received from his father, an immigrant from Italy who
did not have the benefit of a college education. He recalled that
his father urged him to be sure to “graduate from college with a
title” rather than simply leaving with what the elder Durante
referred to as a “general degree.”
“My dad believed very strongly that it didn’t matter whether I
became a shoemaker or a doctor,” he said, “as long as I had some
sort of a title. I took his advice and the rest is history. I
became a teacher in 1994 at Syosset High School and I’m still there
18 years later, and now I’m the principal. During those years I’ve
met lots of teachers, and the great ones are those who can really
connect with their students on every level. It’s as simple as
Unlike the other honorees, Dorothea Breen took a somewhat
roundabout route before making her way into the world of education.
On the day of her undergraduate graduation, she told her surprised
parents that she felt she had made a mistake in her choice of
degree and really wanted to become a teacher. At their urging she
spent a few years in the business world, and then returned to St.
John’s for a Master’s degree in Education.
Now a respected principal, she believes that, “a good teacher or
administrator needs to set an example, be a good role model and
allow others to succeed in their roles as well. Teachers and
administrators are leaders, and the best leaders are those who do
not expect anyone to do anything that they wouldn’t do
As a Superintendent of Schools and a former teacher himself, Thomas
Chadzutko is committed to bringing out the best in those educators
who work under his leadership. He believes that while every teacher
has a vital role to play in the education of tomorrow’s leaders,
there are certain characteristics that allow the finest among them
to stand head and shoulders above the rest.
“I think a great teacher is someone who learns from a mentor,” he
said. “The best teacher is someone who’s passionate, someone who’s
dedicated, someone who’s willing to take correction and someone who
loves kids. I think that sums it up pretty well.”
And what of the future?
Proud and honored to receive her award from the University that has
always meant so much to her, Suzanne Viscovich had some simple
advice for anyone seeking to embark upon a career in
“A great teacher is one who understands that every decision you
make is all about the children,” she said. “I’d love to tell future
teachers that no matter how hard it gets, as long as your heart is
in the right place and you do it for the children, then you’re in
the right profession. That’s all that matters.”