Three outstanding Long Beach Unified School District teachers were recently selected as Teachers of the Year.
Two of the three also earned the Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year honor and advanced for consideration as California Teacher of the Year.
Kenneth Fisher teaches math and engineering at Cabrillo High School, Erin Brady teaches third grade GATE/Excel at Holmes Elementary School, and Tim Schugt teaches second grade at Tincher Preparatory School.
Fisher and Brady earned the L.A. County honor. All three were honored at a recent luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles County Office of Education for top teachers throughout the county.
Kenneth Fisher draws on his own experiences as a troublemaking student to find ways to reach students of all abilities.
“When I got to high school, my bad reputation was there long before me. But during my tenth grade year, my P.E. teacher?and track coach asked me something no one had asked me before: Who are you, and what do you want? They were questions that took me a few years to answer realistically, and when I did, wow, life became simpler.
“They are questions I now use so often, that kids know when I am going to ask them! But when kids think about who they are and what they want, when situations arise, their decision is simple.”
He believes that the answers to those questions can help students achieve greater success well beyond the math classroom.
Fisher also is a firm believer in the power of using data to help students understand what they need to focus on.
“Most students who are not achieving in school typically do not understand what they are supposed to be doing. By giving them data, by showing them strategies on a daily basis, students are more inclined to work and find success, because their path is laid out in front of them.”
Fisher sponsors hour-long afterschool sessions three times a week for reteaching difficult concepts. He is also the host of “Fisher’s Cafe,” a three-hour Wednesday night event that draws up to 200 students who are seeking extra help in a class.
“I try to help all I can, but mostly the students group together and help each other as I serve crackers, cookies, juice and water. My little ‘Cafe’ has now turned into a school-wide study hall for all to attend.”
Erin Brady entered the teaching profession after training as a fine artist and preservationist in New York, restoring woodwork in turn-of-the-century churches.
“The last job site I worked at supported a soup kitchen that fed 900 to 1,200 homeless people daily. As I worked, patrons of the kitchen often talked to me. Their comments frequently focused on the fact that I was doing a job they could be doing. Despite the specialized training I had as an artist and preservationist, I climbed off the scaffolding one day, realizing I agreed with them, and soon applied to a teacher education program. I knew then, and still believe now, that making a difference in the early life of even one child might help keep them off such a line. I knew that I wanted to try.”
Differentiation is at the core of her teaching, to better meet the needs of students who may be at the high or low ability ends of the spectrum.
Brady’s approach to teaching was strengthened and confirmed after her son was diagnosed with autism.
“What has become intrinsic for me as part of teaching is what I have learned from parenting a special needs child; all students need rigor, compassion, differentiation for their style of learning, and patience.
“Also intrinsic to my beliefs about teaching, and contrary to the direction education has taken nationally in recent years, is my core belief that exposure to creative experiences and the arts is necessary for diverse human beings. I believe that the reason my students thrive and demonstrate high achievement arises from my determination to infuse my classroom with art experiences that align naturally to content areas.”
She believes these offerings are fundamental rather than supplemental.
“Rigor does not always equate to pencil and paper tasks; it can have a foundation in a state of mind, stemming from creativity. I believe that I am a strong teacher of academic core skills, but the hook I use to engage my students is founded in creative challenge or experience in the classroom. I have fun with my students as we learn.”
Tim Schugt, like Brady, became a teacher as a second career. He had earlier worked in human resource management.
“As I entered my late 20s, I developed the feeling that I wanted to do something more meaningful in my life. While I was working in health care at the time, it did not have a direct impact on people’s lives. Though I had never previously considered teaching, I returned to my alma mater to earn a teaching credential.”
In his classroom, his students are expected to work hard and do their best, reflecting Schugt’s philosophy that any job worth doing is worth doing well.
“I have found my younger students are much more receptive to this, but it was also the case when I taught older students. I am often asked, ‘Is this good?’ My response is always the same, ‘If it is the best you can do, then the answer is yes.’ This is often all it takes to motivate a student to correct, refine and revise their work.”
He enjoys the challenge of motivating students who seem apathetic about their studies.
“Every child has the choice to be successful and we need to persevere in our attempts to make that happen.”
His most challenging moment as a teacher came when facing a roomful of disheartened parents at Back to School Night, after taking over a class for a popular teacher who took early maternity leave.
“She was an amazing teacher and their disappointment was obvious. I acknowledged it and shared that if I were sitting in their places I would feel the same way. They were surprised by my candor, and I promised to do all I could to make it a successful year. I lived up to my promise and succeeded in winning them over.”
Watching so many of his students continue to achieve and excel long after they leave his classroom gives him invaluable perspective.
“I have had students return as student teachers, to ask for career advice, request a letter of recommendation, or to let me know they’re leaving for military service. To know that I am remembered many years after I’ve taught a child is a great reward, and to have them seek me out is an honor. To be remembered by so many of my own former students is perhaps my greatest accomplishment.”