Alexakos nominted for state honor

AMHERST – When she was growing up, Liz Alexakos wanted to be, first, a gymnast, later a pediatrician and still later, a psychologist.

At Bates College she set her sights on international relations and took a double major in French and Japanese. But then came her pivotal junior year when she was a dorm advisor for freshmen, and a counselor noticed how well she worked with the younger students.

The counselor encouraged Alexakos to considered teaching, so she started volunteering in schools.

“I found I really did have a connection to kids … I was just meant to be doing this, she said last week as she waited in her Wilkins School classroom for her first graders to come back from lunch.

The 22-year teaching veteran is one of 23 nominees for New Hampshire’s Teacher of the Year, and she was nominated by the parents of a child who started in her class mid-year.

“I’m so honored they went out of their way to do this,” Alexakos said.

The parent was Marissa Chan, who said she and her husband had been apprehensive about transferring their two daughters out of private school.

But Alexakos, she said, helped them understand all the new features, like school buses and card-swipping for meals.

“I was blown away,” Chan said, when Alexakos gave them a classroom app before school started so they could see a video of the class setup. And because the parent-teacher meetings had been held in November, Alexakos met with Chan in February to help her understand assessment testing.

“Knowing about assessments was huge for me,” the parent said.

The Teacher of the Year nominees are from all over New Hampshire and from all grade levels. They all had to write three essays and submit three letters of support. Then they went to Concord last week to give presentations that were judged by state education leaders.

In the coming weeks, the judges will choose semifinalists and finalists.

Alexakos, who lives in Bedford and has three children, has a master’s degree in elementary education from Boston College and is working on a second master’s, in education administration, at Rivier College. She hopes to be a school principal someday and bring her skills to an entire school.

“Even though a love the kids, I’m shifting toward being a teacher-leader,” she said.

In one of her essays she writes about the importance of relationships and making connections for students:

“In a recent science activity about arctic animals we were comparing the size of a polar bear and a walrus. measuring in feet is not yet meaningful to first graders. Knowing I had some basketball enthusiasts in my class, after having them read that a walrus is 10-12 feet long, I said, “So, if you stood the walrus up, they would be as tall as a basketball hoop.” The children gasped, light shone in their eyes and they made a connection. Connecting learning to the world around us is important, and while a walrus was not readily present, the basketball hoop was, and their motivation and interest rose immediately.

She also talks about how her focus on growth and perseverance affects her classroom:

“I have seen a change in my students. I share my mistakes with them, I show them how mistakes are opportunities for learning. My students find our classroom to be a safe place to take risks and to challenge themselves.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or