The first year of classroom teaching is a bit like Army bootcamp: Newbies face months of sleep deprivation, inconvenient illnesses and long, grueling days, not to mention the fear of failure. Those who make it through that first year are awarded no uniform, no special title and no medals — but they should be.
Los Angeles Unified School District leaders and their hometown ballclub seemed to agree, taking a late-summer day this year to honor 23 exceptional “rookie” teachers from throughout the sprawling district. California State University, Northridge alumni took seven — almost a third — of the awards, as the inaugural “LAUSD Rookie Teachers of the Year” for the 2014-15 school year. All seven earned credentials from the renowned teacher-credential program in CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education, along with their degrees.
The teachers were nominated by their colleagues and schools for their effective teaching practices and efforts to meet the school district’s goal of preparing all students to be successful 21st-century learners. They were honored Aug. 2 at Dodger Stadium, where the district and team officials presented each teacher with a personalized Dodgers jersey and announced their names over the stadium loudspeakers during the game.
“We were practicing our kindergarten graduation (in May), and the principal and the coordinator and the coach walked in with a lady in a suit, and they made this big announcement — it was nice,” said Heidy Lopez ’12 (Liberal Studies) of the moment she learned she’d been named a “Rookie Teacher of the Year” at Queen Anne Elementary in Mid-City Los Angeles.
Lopez has matriculated to (teaching) first grade, along with her students from last year, and she had high praise for CSUN’s Integrated Teaching Education Program, which helped her earn a bachelor’s degree and a “preliminary” teaching credential.
“As soon as I was out of school, I was able to get a job,” said Lopez, who has obtained her full teaching credential.
CSUN’s heavy representation among “rookie” teacher honorees “speaks a lot about CSUN,” she said.
“Even before I went to CSUN, I knew that it was known for having an amazing program,” Lopez said. “This proves it, because teachers from a lot of other [universities] couldn’t get jobs right away, and we did — and now to learn that seven of the ‘rookies of the year’ were from CSUN, that says a lot.
“I’m really spoiled at my school,” she said of Queen Anne Elementary. “I had a mentor for my first two years, and I’ve had a lot of support. I’m adjusting to the new curricula and Common Core standards. I love coming to my job, because every day is different. By the end of the year, you can really see the kids change.”
Cindy Flores ’14 (Liberal Studies), who also taught kindergarten in 2014-15, said the award was especially gratifying after the exhaustion and struggles she overcame during her rookie year in the classroom.
“I struggled a lot in the beginning, where I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish my first year of teaching,” said Flores, who also completed CSUN’s credential program and teaches at Van Nuys Elementary School. “Teaching is a lot of work! I was trying to figure out the administrative side of the job, the prepping that is involved, planning, etc. I felt like I lived at school. I was there for about 11 to 12 hours some days.
“I tend to set my standards very high for myself, and I didn’t want to let my students down,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that they learned as much as possible and enjoyed their first year of school. As the year came to an end, I felt more comfortable, and planning was becoming easier. … When I found out that I was being awarded rookie teacher of the year, it was such a surprise. I started the year feeling overwhelmed and, at times, even defeated. And I ended the year remembering why I chose this career.”
Flores also praised CSUN’s credential program for its practical approach in training teachers.
“There is help every step of the way, and professors really get to know the students and work with them since the cohorts [are] not very big,” she said. “All of the [CSUN] classes were hands on, where we were asked to teach lessons to our peers as if we were teaching an elementary classroom. I liked that aspect of the program because for me, it is much easier to remember something when I practice it than when I just read about it. In my first year of teaching, I used many techniques for behavior management, teaching phonemic awareness, art projects, how to communicate with parents — to name a few — that I learned from classes I took at CSUN, or from the student-teaching experience we had to fulfill.”
According to LAUSD officials, the honorees demonstrated excellence in preparing and planning instruction, creating a positive classroom climate and using a dynamic and engaging teaching style. In the inaugural year of the award, the school district employed more than 900 first-year teachers. Of those, 87 were nominated by administrators, and a committee then selected the 23 winners.
“These talented teachers are the building blocks of great schools,” said Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines. “They inspire young people. They encourage students to achieve and embrace lifelong learning. We look forward to their impressive work for many years to come.”
The 23 winners and their guests watched a Dodgers-Angels baseball game from a private suite at the stadium. In addition to Flores and Lopez, the other CSUN alumni winners were: Jose Pillado ’07 (Child Development), Leichman High School; Enrique Rodriguez ’03 (Cinema and Television Arts), Sheridan Elementary; Jessica Blake ’00 (Marketing), ’06 (MBA), Trinity Street Elementary; Maria Angeles Huerta ’09 (Liberal Studies), Saticoy Elementary; and Jessica Garcia ’13 (Psychology), Wisdom Elementary 2014-15, now at Parmelee Elementary School.
“Not only did I teach my students a lot, but they taught me what teaching is all about,” Flores said. “I don’t think I would trade my experience. There were many bumps on the road, but it is reassuring to know that I got through my first year of teaching. I believe that no other year can be a roller coaster with so many surprises as this year has been.”