For the recipients, the Teacher of the Year designation given each year by the Madison Board of Education means that you're doing something right. In the case of Peter Bizier, a 5th-grade social studies teacher at Brown Middle School and this year's recipient of the district award, it's a result of making history come alive in the classroom.
A teacher at Brown since 2005, Peter has his students hold mock elections, turn the classroom into a walking tour of Civil War Gettysburg, and create short family history movies that tell the story of relatives who immigrated to the United States from another country or served in World War II or Korea.
"We do history rather than study history, basically doing simulations, having them imagine they're going back in time," says Peter. "By actively doing social studies, they're learning about it rather than just sitting and reading about it."
Peter wasn't always enthused about history; that's part of the reason he wants to share it with his students.
"As a child, history was not my favorite subject," he admits. "As I started teaching, I started liking history more and more. My goal is to help these kids appreciate history more than I did when I was a kid."
Teaching is a second career for Peter; previously he worked as a district manager at a retail business. Both he and his wife Sandra graduated from Byrant University in 1991; she went back in the mid-'90s to become a 5th-grade teacher, and Peter followed in her footsteps a few years after that.
"She was definitely an inspiration for me," he says. "I spent some time in her classroom and realized it was what I wanted to do."
Peter earned his master's in education at the University of Bridgeport, the same school his wife had attended, and his sixth-year in educational foundations at Southern Connecticut State University. He began teaching 13 years ago at Saxe Middle School in New Canaan. Seven years ago, the couple moved to Madison so their children, Sophia, 12, and Jonas, 10, could attend its school system. Today, both work at Madison schools, Sandra as the library media specialist at Island Avenue Elementary School.
During the summers, the family travels-and incorporates history into various adventures. This past summer, they took five weeks to drive across the country, camping and visiting seven National Parks.
"It was quite a learning experience for all of us," says Peter, who also enjoys sailing, reading, and cooking in his spare time. "I walked on the Oregon Trail. We went along the Lewis and Clark Trail as well."
The family also visited three baseball stadiums along the way-Peter is a huge fan of the sport, and coaches both his daughter's and son's softball and Little League teams.
Being named Teacher of the Year came as a surprise to Peter.
"I was very happy and I guess humbled," he says. "You just do teaching because you love it; when you get recognized, it's a nice feeling."
Coming from a business background perhaps gives Peter a greater appreciation for teaching, and an enthusiasm that transmits into the classroom.
"I love it," says Peter, who enjoys nothing more than having students come back years later with memories of his classroom. "It's really exciting to be able to live and work in such a wonderful, supportive community that is so deeply caring about education."
Peter attributes his success to the supportive school administration and community of Madison, and to the outstanding teachers at Brown-plus his family. And he just plain loves spending time with kids.
"Every day I'm excited to wake up and go hang out with 10 year-olds," he says. "They're very excited about learning. They're curious; they have a great sense of humor."