Flori Zeqiri

Flori Zeqiri of Rockford teaches 7th grade Social Studies at Harlem Middle School, where she has taught for 17 years. She immigrated to America in 1984, when she was just eight years old and in the middle of second grade. Though angry at her parents at the time for making her leave Albania, she now says, “they knew something I didn’t: education is the great equalizer.” Flori was fortunate to land in the classroom of a teacher who welcomed, accepted and believed in the young girl who knew no English at the time. “From that moment, I knew I wanted to be a teacher and give my students the safety, acceptance and love she gave me.” She learned quickly that teaching is not as easy as that teacher had made it look! It took more than words to convince her students of her belief in them. She found success through sharing her love of competition. Her students compete in walk-a-thons and other fundraisers, using the team motto, “Champions Find a Way.” She watches them evolve as the year progresses and they start believing they can accomplish anything they set their minds to, in school and in life. One student who nominated her said, “This teacher inspires me. The only teacher. She makes me want to come to school every day. She also makes me feel like I can do anything that I put my mind to.” Flori says, “In the end, my number one goal as an educator is to see my students flourish. My students know that I will be there for them no matter what. I consider it an honor when one of my students lets me know that they have a home game, then waits patiently to hear I’ll be there to watch. I want my students to know that having teachers who care is something they should expect.” Part of caring about her students is finding the best ways to recognize and reach the diverse students she teaches. As a student, Flori would light up at any mention of Albania, so she knows students need to see examples reflective of their races and cultures; therefore, she teaches about our country’s historically diverse makeup and introduces them to many perspectives. “Showing a video about Madame CJ Walker and watching the face of my African-American student’s face light up because she saw someone who looked like her doing amazing things in history is priceless.”