School of Education
June 1, 2009
“The words of thanks from my students are the greatest award I could receive.”
I have a very clear recollection of the moment I decided to become a teacher. I was 11 years old, in the sixth grade, completing another in a series of worksheets – the purpose of which was never explained to me – and I just knew I could make the educational process more meaningful and more memorable. In fact, I knew even then that I wanted to teach the sixth grade. I remember very clearly thinking, “I bet I could make this class more interesting than this!” Therefore, oddly enough, my career choice is motivated not through role models, but through negative examples. Now, because I am absolutely determined to give my students an educational experience that is an improvement upon my own, I am actually grateful for the poor teaching and tedious lessons I was exposed to years ago.
After graduating from Foothill High School in 1985, I attended UCLA. As an undergraduate, I double-majored and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. I stayed at UCLA for graduate school and simultaneously earned my Master’s Degree in Education and Multiple Subject Clear Credential in August 1991.
In July, 1991, I was hired by the Tustin Unified School District and I became a proud staff member at Currie Middle School. During my thirteen-year tenure at Currie, I taught several grade levels and several subjects, including Math, Science, ASB/Leadership, English, Reading, and Social Studies. Upon hearing that a new high school would open in TUSD in September 2004, I decided to make a change and challenge myself with a new curriculum and grade level. Since arriving at Beckman, I have instructed freshman and junior students at the Honors (H) and College Prep (CP) level. My current assignment includes one English freshman level College Prep course (Sheltered/Transitional) and four Honors level courses for juniors (English 3H).
In addition, I have been a part-time Instructor for the Department of Education at the University of California at Irvine since June 2002. I have taught four different graduate level courses for UCI, and I eagerly look forward to my next assignment.
I have always been interested in staff development and the opportunity to train new teachers. Since 1991, I have served as a Mentor Teacher five times for the TUSD, completing a variety of tasks which were both self-selected and District-appointed. Since 1999, I have worked with UCI to host new teachers in my classroom as they acquire their teaching credentials. Three of these candidates completed their student teaching in my classroom under my supervision. During the past eight years, working as a presenter for the California Reading and Literature Project, I have planned and presented workshops for the Orange County Department of Education, Anaheim City School District, the Literacy Leadership Institute at the Center for Educational Partnerships (CFEP) and the state meeting of the CRLP. From 2002 until last year, I worked as a consultant for the Orange County Department of Education.
For the past nine years, I have worked as a school representative as one of TUSD’s Writing Coaches. This program, in particular, has been very important to me. During the summer of 2005, for example, the group collaborated on a document known as the TUSD Writing Guide. This guide explained the instructional process and instructional decision-making necessary to plan and implement a standards-based writing program in the middle and high school grades. It also established, for the first time, an instructional schedule for writing for each teacher in the middle and high school grades. However, in 2007, seeing that our impact and reach was proving less effective, four other coaches and myself met, planned and created a year-long course for TUSD teachers. This program, known as the Writing Seminar, was in its first-year of implementation until its recent postponement (for budget reasons). We are hoping that our systematic training of 21 middle and high school teachers – representing each middle and high school in the District – can continue at a later date.
I have been fortunate during my career, and I have received a few awards for my teaching. In 1998, I was selected as Tustin Unified’s Middle School Teacher of the Year and the Tustin Unified School District Teacher of the Year. In 1999, I was a recipient of a nomination for the Disneyland National Teacher of the Year. In 2002, I was anonymously selected, profiled and photographed as an outstanding educator by the Orange County Teachers Federal Credit Union. In June 2007, I received an Outstanding Contributions to Education Award from the Orange County Department of Education. Last month, I was honored as Beckman High School’s Teacher of the Year, Tustin Unified’s High School Teacher of the Year, and as one of fifteen finalists for Orange County Teacher of the Year.
Today, to receive a “Thank you” from an fifteen-year-old student is a wondrous thing. In fact, although I am humbled by the recognition I mentioned above, the words of thanks from my students are the greatest award I could receive. Sometimes a student’s “thank you” is audible, but more often than not – and this is actually more satisfying – the thanks arrives in the form of a discovery that alters a student’s facial expression. It’s a look that says, without words, “Ohhh! I get it now. I understand. Yes! That makes sense! ” The fact that my hard work and preparation can create that look on the faces of my students on a regular basis is my greatest accomplishment in education.
I believe that teaching is about respect. If I have respect for my students, they will have respect for me. I am not afraid to give that respect first, trusting that my students will see it, expect it, and hopefully give it to someone else in their lives. If I have respect for myself, I will accept my position as a role model, I will be fully prepared with meaningful, rigorous lessons each day, and I will strive to teach every single one of my students what is necessary for their future.
I also believe that teaching is the hardest, most important job in the world. The importance of our work almost requires it to be formulaic – but effective instruction is never formulaic. It must be approached as an art, not a science. It must involve passion and commitment and spontaneity and intellectual enthusiasm. It must be a beautiful balance of that which should be taught and that which could be taught. My instruction, for example, should include all that I know and all that I still want to learn. It must be infinitely hopeful. Teaching requires patience, empathy, organization, knowledge, skill, tact, emotion, ethics, wit, craftsmanship…and I love that I get to attempt to incorporate each of those values every day. If I believe that each child can learn – and I do – then I must believe that each teacher can learn as well. Therefore, I try my best to learn with my students every day.
Frankly, I am uncomfortable with the idea that I am a “Teacher of the Year” compared to others at Beckman or others in the Tustin Unified School District. First, as I have said to many others, I feel blessed to work with such qualified professionals each day at Beckman and at UCI. I have learned and will continue to learn so much from so many of my colleagues. With that in mind, however, I can honestly say that I know of no person who enjoys coming to work more than I do. I simply love my job. I want all of my students to be successful. I welcome any person, at any time, to observe my interaction with my students and my heartfelt ambition to make them more informed and more confident by the time each class ends. I try incredibly hard to coax their responses, to discuss life’s possibilities, to challenge their intellect, and to inspire their creativity. Every year I receive students who are vastly different from those I have taught before. Every year I try my best to meet their needs. I try to be consistent, calm, non-confrontational, supportive, flexible, approachable, knowledgeable, considerate and appreciative. Each day I do my best to monitor, adjust, rewrite, update, adapt, assist, encourage, create, simplify, revise, apologize, empathize, collaborate, learn and modify.
I will eagerly anticipate today with a fervent desire to be an even better teacher tomorrow.