National Teacher of the Year

1981 National Teacher of the Year

NameJay Sommer
StateNew York

School Information

School Address
New Rochelle High SchoolNew Rochelle, NY
Teaching AreaLanguage

Washington, D.C. - April 22 - Jay Sommer, who came to the U.S. from Europe in 1948 and received his formal education through more than 20 years of night classes, has been named the 1981 National Teacher of the Year.

The announcement was made today at a White House ceremony in which the First Lady, Mrs. Nancy Reagan, presented Mr. Sommer with the crystal apple award, representing the traditional symbol of teaching.

Mr. Sommer, a foreign language teacher at New Rochelle High School in New York, was selected from more than 150,000 teachers in the annual awards program that focuses public attention on excellence in teaching. The program is sponsored by the Encyclopaedia Britannica Companies, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Good Housekeeping magazine.

Mr. Sommer, who speaks 10 languages fluently, was born in Germany in 1927 and raised in Czechoslovakia. His father died when he was in the fourth grade, forcing him to quit school and support his family. At age 12, he was incarcerated in a Nazi labor camp for the duration of World War II and in 1948 emigrated to the United States. Once here, he resumed his education at night - attending classes for 21 uninterrupted years.

Mr. Sommer says the attitudes of teachers and students have the greatest influence on learning. "The flow of warmth and affection between teacher and student as well as between student and student creates an atmosphere of mutual acceptance in which teaching and learning flourish," he said. "I have learned that to create such an environment is one of the most important a teacher can pursue."

"I can honestly say, too, that I've received as much as I have given; learned as much as I have taught," he noted.

Mr. Sommer has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brooklyn College, Master of Arts degrees in Spanish Language and Literature from Hunter College and in Russian from Fordham University. He has also completed all course work toward a Ph.D in Comparative Literature at New York University.

Now in his 19th year at New Rochelle High School in New York's Westchester County, Mr. Sommer teaches Spanish, Russian and Hebrew. An expert skier, he heads the school's Ski Club. He also serves as the advisor to the French Club.

Mr. Sommer and his wife, Shirley, have been married for 32 years. They have a married son, who lives in Ireland, and to grandchildren. Reacting to Mr. Sommer's selection, Gordon Ambach, New York Commissioner of Education, said, "We are indeed richer because Jay Sommer emigrated to New York state and chose to teach here."

The other finalists in this year's program were Patricia Oyeshiki, an English teacher at Samuel F. B. Morse High School in San Diego California; Shirley J. Gillis, a kindergarten teacher at Horton School in New London, Connecticut; and Shoshana Herzig, an economics teacher at Moanalua High School in Honolulu, Hawaii. The 1980 Teacher of the Year and finalists will be featured in the May issue of Good Housekeeping magazine and in the 1980 Britannica Book of the Year.

Sommer's Thoughts on Teaching and Learning