Milford teacher wins statewide student’s choice award

Teacher Austin Cesare poses at Foran High School, in Milford, Conn. June 6, 2022. Cesare has received the 2022 John Stedman Passion for the Social Studies Teaching Award by the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies.

Teacher Austin Cesare poses at Foran High School, in Milford, Conn. June 6, 2022. Cesare has received the 2022 John Stedman Passion for the Social Studies Teaching Award by the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — Austin Cesare has earned numerous awards over the years, but this one is most special.

The Foran High teacher was recently awarded the John Stedman Passion for Social Studies Award — one in which the winner is determined by the students.

“Without a doubt, this award is more meaningful than others I’ve won because this is an award determined by students,” said Cesare, who has worked in the Milford Public Schools since 1998 and at Foran High since 2000.

“The fact that students at Joseph A. Foran High School decided to take time to write nominations for me, to support me for this award is meaningful,” he said. “I went into teaching to work with students, and the fact that I’ve had this type of impact means a lot to me.”

Cesare has been Foran’s social studies department chair since 2013, and also has been an adjunct professor at Sacred Heart University since 2013.

“I knew since kindergarten that I wanted to be a classroom teacher, so I’ve been going for that my entire life,” he said. “I enjoy working with students and enjoy working with my colleagues here at Foran High School. They are phenomenal people.”

But the person who pushed him to become a teacher was his great aunt, Lavina Costanzo, who was the assistant superintendent at New Haven for the eastern half of the city.

“During my growing up years, we spent a lot of time with her at her lake cottage in New Hampshire, and she would tell us stories about what it was like being a teacher,” he said. “She got me involved in becoming a teacher and wanting to do that.”

Cesare’s passion for history began when he was young. He said he would go on family trips to different sites of historical significance.

“We would tour historical battlefield sites with my parents growing up because they had a desire to show us the important historical sites,” he said. “So I grew up with that — a family-focused on history. So I put two and two together and I became a history and social studies teacher,” Cesare added.

Cesare is also a government teacher and uses his family and personal experience when teaching in the classroom.

“My father, brother and I were all town councilmen in Hamden,” he said. “I also served on the Board of Education, so I have a lot of experience in government and politics, and that is also part of social studies.”

Annually, the Connecticut Council for Social Studies gives the Stedman award to an educator displaying the excellence and passion for teaching in the field of social studies. The award is determined solely on letters from students describing the acumen and impact of their social studies educator.

When Cesare won the award, he said he was reminded of the advice his great aunt and mother gave him about being a teacher.

“My mom always said, when you become a teacher, make it a classroom you would want to be in and a classroom you would enjoy,” he said. “And my great aunt, before she passed away, told me to teach because you want to do it, not because you have to do it. Make it your passion.”

Cesare said he likes to do hands-on learning, and one time he had free speech activist Mary Beth Tinker, from the 1969 Tinker vs Des Moines Independent School District Supreme Court case, speak to his class virtually about her case.

Other types of hands-on learning Cesare focuses on is mock trials, debates, a mock senate bill read and a mock election campaign.

“I do a lot of hands-on learning that I would want to be in if I was in my classroom,” he said. “But to me, it’s not a job. It is the idea of being there and being supportive to all kids.”