On Aug. 11, the Los Angeles Unified School District honored 22 teachers at its Teacher of the Year Luncheon on the campus of the University of Southern California. It was an afternoon where Matadors stole the show.
Seven of the 22 Teacher of the Year honorees are California State University, Northridge alumni — Marcella Deboer ’97 (English) M.A. ’00 (English) , Tracy Johnson Elchyshyn ’91 (Liberal Studies), Patricia Kalma ’05 (Teaching Credential), Isela Jacome ’00 (Teaching Credential), Diana Rivera ’03 (Teaching Credential), Amber Willis ’02 (Teaching Credential) and Brenda Young ’02 (Teaching Credential).
“It shows that our long-term commitment to excellence is paying off,” said Michael Spagna, dean of the Michael D. Eisner College of Education. “We’re trying to produce the most effective teachers we can who will stay in the community, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
“We’re very excited about this,” he added. “Anything that can bring cultural appreciation to teachers, we’re all about, because they have the most noble profession and don’t always get the kind of pats on the back they need.”
The honored teachers were genuinely touched by the accolade.
“At first I was shocked. It’s great to be recognized because I know that teachers don’t get a whole lot of recognition in the classroom,” said Willis, a science teacher at Downtown Magnets High School who has been teaching for 15 years.
Deboer, an English teacher at Cesar Chavez Learning Academies who has been teaching for 17 years, said, “This is confirmation that I’m doing a good job on what I worked so hard for.”
Many of the teachers credited CSUN for giving them a boost and setting the stage for their future success in education.
“The special education program at CSUN is very exceptional, very fantastic,” Rivera said. “I had great professors — especially for behavior and classroom management, and working with kids with autism and literacy. It gave me a really good basis for what I do in class [today].”
For Rivera, teaching was a second career. She was a lawyer who worked for Disney, but decided to shift gears and specifically looked to CSUN’s special education program to lift her to the next part of her professional life. Today, Rivera is a transitional kindergarten to third-grade teacher at Granada Elementary Community Charter School, and she has been teaching 13 years.
Young, an English teacher at John R. Wooden High School who has been teaching 15 years, also switched careers. She worked in public relations prior to teaching.
“CSUN was great for me,” Young said. “I entered teaching as a mid-career profession, one of the older ones in my [CSUN] classes. … CSUN helped me plug in all the necessary things to learn how to be an educator. I felt CSUN treated me as a professional already.”
Jacome was born in Ecuador and came to the U.S. at 17 years old. She was the first in her family to go to college and now is helping others achieve. Jacome is an English teacher at James Monroe High School and has been teaching for 10 years.
“It was a student who nominated me [for Teacher of the Year], so I was very touched that I touched this student in a way that she thought, ‘Oh wow, my teacher is amazing,’” Jacome said. “It inspires me to work harder because you always want to make sure you’re doing the right thing for the students.”
Jacome said she would one day like to come full circle and teach at CSUN. She shared the same experience that some of her fellow Teachers of the Year found at the university.
“I had some amazing professors who supported me and encouraged me and were there for me, even long after the credential program,” Elchyshyn said. “They encouraged me to come back and talk to them and ask questions. Their lesson-plan drawers were open.”
Kalma said, “I did the [Accelerated Collaborative Teacher Preparation Program] at CSUN. It was an amazing program because the teachers really knew up-to-date and current research and what was really needed in the classroom, and they showed us by doing hands-on activities, how to teach with hands-on activities for the students. So I feel like it really prepared me well for my first year.”