Teachers of the Year Known for Extra Efforts

Maureen Rippee, Wilson Classical High School English teacher, Wednesday was named Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year, one of 12 winners among the county's 75,000 teachers. Rippee is also one of three outstanding Long Beach Unified School District 2002 Teachers of the Year. They include Sheila Gibbons, first and second grade teacher at Lee Elementary School; and Evelyn Seto, second grade teacher at Emerson Parkside Academy. What students notice most in Rippee's English and Exploring Teaching classrooms is her total dedication to teaching. "You are surrounded by learning," said Jeicel Guzman, a recent student. "She posts student work inside the classroom and outside in the hall. You can't help but learn more in your class because of it. It reminds you of the things you have done, and you realize just how much you have accomplished." Rippee is very generous with her peers--especially with new teachers--in sharing strategies and techniques that help students. "New and experienced teachers ask me how I keep my enthusiasm after 20 years," she said. "I treat every year like it is my last year in teaching. I treat every class like it will be the last time I have the honor to teach it. I only have one chance to impact students' lives, and I take that very seriously." Her experience and hard work have led to her election as president of the Southland Council of Teachers of English, representing teachers from Santa Barbara to San Diego at the state level. "For many of our students, passing a test is the least of their worries," she said. "In my second year of teaching, I was made painfully aware of its importance when a student trusted me enough to write me a suicide note. To make a long story short, we got to him in time. However, his story shaped me as a teacher. He shaped me as well as every student I have ever taught. They have taught me what an awesome responsibility being a teacher is." She regularly gives above and beyond in the time and effort she devotes to her students. She spends many extra hours preparing students for standardized tests, holding writing conferences and assisting struggling students. She has helped many of her students to be professionally published. "Good teaching is truly an art, a passion that makes me look forward to each day, and provides me with the unique opportunity to influence someone's life for the better," Rippee said. "It is an evolutionary process that continues to be challenging and fun for me. I am very proud to say, 'I am a teacher--and it is the best job in the world.'" Since her fourth year of teaching, Sheila Gibbons has been called upon to share her teaching skills as a master teacher, mentor teacher, new teacher coach, program coordinator and district math coach. Now a teachers' teacher, the diminutive 5'1" Gibbons said "I have always told my friends that I didn't want to teach anyone who was taller than myself. This new focus on being involved with the development of curiculum and the search for more effective practices is an exciting journey . . . but it was so unexpected." Her classroom is not neatly assembled into rows of desks and chairs. Instead, there is a reading pool lined with pillows, a picnic table covered with a delicate tablecloth, beach chairs set in pairs, pillows that cover the floor and book bins lining the walls. Students work individually or in small groups all around the room. "My feelings, supported by research, are that we learn best in an environment that is stimulating and comfortable," Gibbons said. "It is rare that someone will find all the students of my class working on the exact same task because of the individual ability levels of my students," she said. "My garage is lined with catalogued shelves of supplies for math, science, art, PE, music and social studies. I try to have equipment handy for whatever tasks my class embarks upon." She's always happy to share her materials with other teachers. Her generosity is part of what has earned her the reputation as a teacher who not only helps students reach their highest potential but her colleagues as well. Her leadership and mentoring skills help others get outstanding results for thousands of children who never set foot in her classroom. Evelyn Seto has high expectations of herself and her students. She sends home frequent assessments to inform parents of their child's progress, publishes an annual classroom newspaper, helps organize and teach lessons for Family Science Night, promotes her school at the LBUSD Education Celebration, assists in both recruiting business partners and writing grants and serves as a new teacher coach. "My students are the greatest accomplishments I have," Seto said. "I don't know of anything more rewarding than having students achieve all they can. I love to take them from where they are in September and relish in seeing them grow. "I instill in my students that they need to go farther and never give up. The phrase 'I can't' is not allowed in my classroom," said Seto. "I apply this to my profession, too. I don't like being told 'I can't' or 'the kids can't.' In situations like that, I think about how I can suggest something or adapt something so that the students can." Seto is known for her creative approaches, excellent judgement and the ability to relate to and work with others. Her hard work, ability and drive, coupled wih her high level of organization, have helped many students and colleagues excel. "Teaching is ever-evolving," Seto said. "There is always something to learn. "I see my role in the classroom as facilitator. I guide the students as they learn. I challenge them to think and do research. "It is such a joyous feeling knowing you have impacted the life of a child," she said. "This past year a former student wrote her Special Person Essay about me. This student has had a hard life. She chose me to write about as someone who influenced her. I was deeply touched. I'm usually not a crier, but her essay and the fact that she chose me were overwhelming. "When special days come around, students ask me what they can get me for a present," Seto said. "My response has always been the same. The best gift to give me is to be happy, be successful in whatever you do and make good choices with your life."