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Comments from Past Participants

Honorees share personal reflections about the California Teachers of the Year Program.

The Application

"There is no doubt that the prospect of writing the essays for the Teacher of the Year application was daunting. There is also no doubt that the time, effort and energy I took to go through the complete application process has proven to be one of the most beneficial experiences of my entire career. The reflections, the insights I gained into the deepest questions that could be asked of me about why I do what I do and what I hope to accomplish was very much like peeling back the onion of my professionalism, and it forced me to examine in a very precise manner my deepest held beliefs about education, career and who I really was as both a teacher and a person. And undeniably, I am better for it." – Alan Lawrence Sitomer, Lynwood High School, Lynwood Unified School District, 2007 California Teacher of the Year

"It wasn't until I sat down with the Teacher of the Year application and began to respond to questions about my philosophy of teaching, about my community, my classroom, and my students, that I realized the weight that these seemingly simple snapshots of my teaching experience carry. By moving me to reflect upon and write about what I cherish most—my students—I was brought face to face with the realization that it is truly by living fully, from the inside out, and by believing that every child can succeed, that we, as teachers, offer hope, build new lives, and set in motion all that leads to transformation."  Kim Labinger, Thomas A. Edison Elementary School, Glendale Unified School District, 2005 California Teacher of the Year

"While the application process was certainly rigorous, it led me on a reflective journey resulting in a renewed excitement about my calling in life. I think every teacher should contemplatively answer such questions about his or her philosophy of teaching, community involvement, current issues in education and message to the nation at large. The end result is deeply impacting and I fully intend to revisit these questions throughout the rest of my career as an educator." Michael Long, Carmela Elementary School, South Whittier Elementary School District, 2008 California Teacher of the Year

"The process of writing the essays led to discoveries about myself and my support network. I ended up creating an 'inspiration scrapbook' as a result of reflecting on my mentors in education. I also reexamined my values as an educator - what is essential, what are my core concerns...what do I love?" – Lauren Miller, Butteville Union Elementary School, Butteville Union Elementary School District, 2006 State Semi-finalist

"At first you think, 'Oh, no, I have to fill out this application.' Then, as you begin to answer the questions, you feel validated as a good teacher. You feel refreshed when it's done, and it really helps to invigorate your dedication and enthusiasm for education." – Sloan Turner Holmes, Stockdale High School, Kern High School District, 2006 State Semi-finalist

"Teaching is an art, a delicate balance of sharing an adult's agenda with the hearts and minds of independent thinkers who have their own opinions on what they want to do. Reading applications submitted by County Teacher of the Year Finalists gives one a glimpse into this delicate balance in action. The passion of the teachers, their determination for their students to succeed and their obvious devotion to each learner is truly inspirational. The essays demonstrate how fortunate we are to have a corps of teachers in California's public education system who believe in every child." Connie Blackburn, Central Elementary School, Escondido Union School District, 2003 California Teacher of the Year

"When I saw the requirements for the application, I thought of several reasons why I didn't have time. My husband said, 'You never know unless you try.' Such simple words, the ones we educators use with our students. I couldn't argue with his line of reasoning….The application was valuable not just for the visibility it has given my program, but for the clarity it has given me as an educator. I feel more confident about why I do what I do. In recent months I have been asked to do some consulting. But nothing excites me more than hearing, There's a little boy who just moved into our district. The application process helped me sift out the wheat from the chaff, to realize that teaching is my joy and my reward." – Sharon Noble, Special Education/Autism, Yucca Mesa Elementary School, Morongo Unified School District, 2006 State Semi-finalist

The Site Visit

"The most important part of the process for me was the visit by former Teachers of the Year. Having three top teachers come to our school and so obviously appreciate our program and community meant the world to us. Like all special events, it sent a powerful and maturing ripple throughout our school. In our case it is always helpful to expose kids from generational poverty to different experiences. The fact that the visitors gave feedback on the good job the students are doing helped to reinforce everything our school was and is working for." – Alan Siegel, W.C. Carle Continuation High School, Konocti Unified School District, 2005 California Teacher of the Year

"I see the importance of having working teachers visit the classrooms of the Teacher of the Year candidates. The three of us conducting the visits were still practicing in the classroom and aware of the trials and tribulations of each day. I can't begin to tell you the many positive effects this experience has had on me. I was profoundly touched by many things that have motivated me to become involved in new endeavors. For example, I joined an organization which pairs men/prisoners in a local detention facility. I will be mentoring a young ward who has virtually no visitors. I owe this epiphany to visiting other teachers' classrooms." – Paul McLaughlin, Suzanne Middle School, Walnut Valley Unified School District, 2004 California Teacher of the Year

"Having seasoned yet current classroom teachers visit my site and pat me on the back for all of my hard work was truly validating. From the moment they arrived, I sensed a feeling of fraternity, not criticism, and I was able to relax and simply teach, knowing they were enjoying the process as much as I." Michael Long, Carmela Elementary School, South Whittier Elementary School District, 2008 California Teacher of the Year

The Recognition Dinner/Gala

"The Recognition Dinner/Gala has given me an opportunity to meet and listen to some of our most inspirational teachers when they get an opportunity to shine like the stars that they are. Their words take me straight back to the best part of my everyday life...the time spent with children who love to learn and embrace the gift of knowledge. For the past three years now I've looked forward to that very special event when I know I will meet some of California's greatest educators and connect with them in a special way for a lifetime." – Zenaida Rosario, La Mirada Elementary School, San Ysidro School District, 2004 California Teacher of the Year

"That evening opened my eyes to a new world, one full of educational supporters and cheerleaders. What a breath of fresh air it was to establish connections with such high-ranking donors and public figures in support and applause of what we do on a daily basis." Michael Long, Carmela Elementary School, South Whittier Elementary School District, 2008 California Teacher of the Year

The Honor

"This award is amazing because it has different levels. First of all, it validated 39 years of working with children. Secondly, it's been humbling. There are so many unique and talented teachers across the state of California that I've had an opportunity to meet. But finally, and I think the most important, is the sense of pride this award has brought to the community and city in which I work. The parents, students, teachers and administration are all on Cloud 9! When I turn on my computer in the morning, I receive e-mails from ex-students telling me how proud and excited they are and then share tales of their children and careers and give me credit for being a part of their success! This award is not only about me, but about us, the community! There is no greater achievement than being remembered as having a positive impact upon someone's life. I shake my head at the magic of it all. This award has a way of seeking out the winner, not the winner seeking out the award." Ray Williams, Steve Luther Elementary School, Cypress School District, 2005 California Teacher of the Year

The process validated what I am doing as a teacher and it was a way of demonstrating to the outside and inside world of education that alternative education is making a difference with students. I feel this process has allowed me to open the doors where most educators would never want or will be able to go." Vickie Trask, Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall, 2006 State Semi-finalist

"It helped me to be an even stronger advocate for this calling of a profession, because now more people hear what I have to say and watch what I do and how I do it. I've met so many remarkable professionals, truly dedicated and compassionate about education and the future of our county, the children! I've been given more opportunities to grow both professionally and personally." – Mary E. Geer, Merlinda Elementary School, West Covina Unified School District, 2002 California Teacher of the Year

"The most powerful aspect...is that I am a member of a cadre of teachers who are wonderful examples of what is right with education. Instead of bemoaning what has been cut or how many more students have been added to a classroom, these teachers continually keep looking outside the box to find solutions to the ever-changing challenges. Networking with exemplary teachers has kept me at the top of my game - even when it goes into overtime." – Dalynn Malek, Laguna Hills High School, Saddleback Valley Unified School District, 2001 California Teacher of the Year

"After 13 years of teaching, I still am a little embarrassed when colleagues, students, or parents suggest that I am an outstanding teacher. I am surrounded by outstanding teachers and feel that I still have so much room for improvement." Scott Malloy, Brea-Olinda High School, Brea-Olinda Unified School District, 2001 California Teacher of the Year

The Profession

"There is no career that is more patriotic than to be a teacher." Chauncey Veatch, Coachella Valley High School, Coachella Valley Unified School District, 2002 California Teacher of the Year and National Teacher of the Year

"'Education, in the words of William Butler Yeats, is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.' I do my best to light that fire every day in my classroom, as do many fine teachers all over the state." – Karen O'Connor, Adobe Bluffs Elementary School, Poway Unified School District, 2000 California Teacher of the Year

"Someone once said that a teacher isn't so much a front line soldier as a Top Gun pilot. While our profession requires the skill and courage of a flying ace, it currently provides few financial incentives. Imagine the effort to entice over a quarter of a million candidates into this most critical of professions! Our challenge is further complicated...we teach among the most ethnically and culturally diverse populations on the planet...I felt it my obligation to be part of that recruiting effort." – Jan Patrick Mongoven, San Marcos High School, San Marcos Unified School District, 2000 California Teacher of the Year

Questions:   Awards Team | awards@cde.ca.gov | 916-319-0842
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