She used to be an engineer. She has just been named one of Florida’s best teachers

Miami Herald | By Jimena Tavel | May 19, 2022

After explaining to her fourth-graders how to turn mixed numbers into improper fractions, Seema Naik walked around her Coral Springs classroom looking over their work.

Suddenly, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright walked in, along with incoming Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr., Florida Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality Paul Burns and other staffers.

Naik and her students looked around. Then the visitors announced that the Eagle Ridge Elementary School teacher was named a finalist for the 2023 Florida Teacher of the Year award, a recognition reserved for the best educators.

“Ms. Naik, Teacher of the Year!” the kids chanted.

“They surprised me. I had tears in my eyes. I feel like I’m in a dream,”said Naik, 58, who won the 2023 Broward Teacher of the Year in March.

This year, the Florida Department of Education selected five finalists from nearly 185,000 public school teachers across the state. After each school district chose its teacher of the year, a selection committee comprised of teachers, principals, parents and the business community reviewed each district application.

The state will announce who won 2023 Florida Teacher of the Year on July 14 in Orlando. So far, it has announced three finalists — Naik; Deelah Jackson, a fourth-grade teacher at Samoset Elementary School in Manatee County; and Jennifer Jaso, a social studies teacher at Sarasota Middle School in Sarasota County.

“Seema Naik is a shining example of excellence in the classroom. Her passion for teaching science and STEM subjects is nothing short of inspiring,” said Diaz in the state’s press release.


Born and raised in Gujarat, India, Naik graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. As a young adult, she moved to Toronto to pursue a master’s degree in environmental engineering and then moved to Florida.

To stay involved with her two daughters’ education, she volunteered at their school. That turned into her filling in as a substitute teacher every now and then. The school soon offered her a job, first to work in the cafeteria, then as a teacher’s assistant in a special-needs classroom.

“And that’s when it really, really hit me how rewarding it is,” said Naik about teaching.

She enrolled at the Florida Atlantic University Teaching & Leadership Center in Boca Raton for an alternative certification for educators.

Because of her background as a scientist, she enjoys performing experiments with her students. She doesn’t tell them rainbows are formed when sunlight is scattered by water droplets. Instead, she shows them with a cup of water and a blank sheet of paper how to recreate a rainbow in 10 minutes.

Before, when she taught science from Pre-K to fifth grade, she brought shaving cream to the preschoolers and asked them questions to teach them about the three states of matter (solid, liquid and gas): What color is it? How hard is it? What happens if you rub your hands?

That led her to start the school’s first Robotics Club in 2017. Through it, she mentors junior coders and programmers.

“I’m always looking for innovative ways to teach. I look at the curriculum and come up with hands-on applications,” Naik said. “These kids are digital natives so you have to engage them with technology. You can’t just teach them with books and write on the board and have them take notes.”


Each morning, Naik and her students start their day discussing mindfulness. She encourages them to practice breathing techniques, stay in the present and repeat affirmations: “May I be kind to others today. May I be focused today. May I be at ease today.”

“These kids are so busy; they have so many things going on with extracurricular activities,” Naik said. “So they need to learn about mental health, especially after the pandemic. You want a well-balanced child.”

She focuses on positive reinforcement instead of negative consequences. If students behave well, Naik gives them tickets that they can redeem for prizes like sitting with a buddy or accessing the VIP supplies, a special box she created.

Because she comes from a family of musicians, she writes her own songs for her students to help them remember the lessons.

She takes them on virtual field trips to tour Everglades National Park and practice yoga at the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens.

She also hosts well-being meetings where everyone sits in a circle and passes around a rain stick, saying something positive and sharing a concern that the class needs to work on.

“It’s not just academic. You want students to become good human beings, too,” she said.

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