Teachers of the Year Share Can-Do Attitude

Three outstanding Long Beach Unified School District teachers recently were named 2003 Teachers of the Year. Satinder Hawkins, social studies teacher at Rogers Middle School; Dee Qualls, computer specialist at Emerson Parkside Academy; and Felicia Ward, kindergarten teacher at Emerson Parkside Academy, will be guests of honor at the Los Angeles County Office of Education Teachers of the Year Luncheon in May. Hawkins looks beyond her classroom for inspiration and meaning when she teaches. "Teaching is not merely a personal act, but a political one. Public education is vital to our democracy, and for this reason I choose to teach. When I'm instructing, I point out the varieties of students, cultures, languages and traditions represented in each class. "Each class is a microcosm of America. I tell students that there are very few places in the world where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus sit in the same room and learn the same materials. There are very few places in the world where the rich and poor have access to the same curriculum." She loves creating opportunities for her students to interact and grow. "Teaching is not merely the dissemination of knowledge. For me, it is the passing on of the ideals that make this a great country. It is sharing a future. A strong public education system is the best gift we can give our children." She always wanted to teach. "It was the only career I ever seriously considered. Not only did I want to teach, I wanted to teach underprivileged children in urban areas." She believes in the power of public education to change the lives of those who enter her class, and in the power of those students to change the world. "There are very few major epiphanies in teaching. Rather, it is . . . filled with small acts of compassion and caring. The payoffs occur down the line. Sometimes we are not there to witness them. But other times, we can (see) the impact that we have had." Dee Qualls sees being a part of the community as an important part of teaching. "I had a student whose brother was having major surgery. His mother asked me if I could watch out for him as he was not verbalizing much at home. Later in the week, I took food to their home, met all the pets and spent time with the family. When Special Person's Day came around, I was surprised that that child wrote about me for that day. It was such a simple act of kindness, but it meant a lot." Qualls decided to become a teacher when she was in high school. "Despite academic success, I was not a very coordinated youngster. That humiliation combined with the fact that I had lost my mother in a drunk-driving accident was just overwhelming. But along came Gene Hannon, my PE teacher. He helped me learn how to do a front flip, when I believed that was impossible. He broke down that skill until I could complete the flip. I realized then that no matter what problem I faced, I could break it down into achievable parts. I could learn anything that I wanted, and I could teach others to do the same. Mr Hannon taught me how to overcome obstacles. For that, I thank him." When her children were older, she began teaching at Emerson, her children's school. "My dad believed that attending school events was a part of his profession--not just because he was a teacher, but because he was also a part of the community. That is how I view my profession; I'm part of the community. I believe that it is my job to relate to students outside of the classroom. I see my students at church, community band concerts and even in the grocery store. How I behave is part of setting examples for my students--standing for the National Anthem, opening doors, helping the elderly, getting exercise, being honest and kind --a person of character. "Students know that I am present for them at all times. I have an impact. A high school ROP student . . . until her experience in my classroom . . . did not think she could go to college. Now she is going to become a teacher. There is no greater honor than being able to inspire others to higher learning." Felicia Ward sees the beginning of kindergarten as a time of high expectations. "The children expect they will achieve and learn the answers to all of their questions. Parents expect their children to achieve academically and enjoy school. I have high expectations for them both." She expects children to come to school ready to learn and expects parents to be involved. "Education is a team effort." "I teach the children to be people of good character. That is critical in my class." Parents consider her to be an especially gifted teacher whose students excel in reading. Sean Washington, whose son, DeShaun, was in Ward's class, is one of her hundreds of fans. "When DeShaun started school, he was unable to read. By December, DeShaun sat down with me one night, opened up a book and began reading. He read the book from cover to cover with very few mistakes. It was music to my ears. I almost began to cry. In only two months, my son went from not being able to read to reading a book basically on his own. My wife and I considered purchasing 'Hooked on Phonics,' but after that great December night we were 'Hooked on Ward.'"