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Teachers of the Year Give Students Their Best

Three outstanding Long Beach Unified School District teachers have been selected as 2005 Teachers of the Year. Sylvia Padilla teaches kindergarten at Henry Elementary School; Laura Angell teaches fourth grade at Addams Elementary School; and Stephen Dublin teaches economics and government at Millikan High School. They are guests today along with top teachers from throughout Los Angeles County at an awards luncheon at the Hilton Universal City. The Board of Education will honor them at an upcoming meeting. Sylvia Padilla’s outstanding teaching in the two-way bilingual immersion program at Henry recently earned her recognition as 2003 California Association of Bilingual Education Teacher of the Year. She credits her father as her first and most important teacher. He showed her the importance of attentiveness. She recalls listening to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with him, while he called her attention to the smallest details. "Listen to the castanets," he would say. "No one would know that they are there. The beauty of art is found in the simplest details." She considers teaching an art form and pays great attention to detail to reach and help students excel. "I look for those details and find the strength each child brings," Padilla said. "I build on that strength and help each child unlock the knowledge every child must gain to become a successful reader. "I teach with purpose, but also with deep awareness that my lessons may fail--yet the best opportunities to learn may be in a child’s question or in another child’s confusion," she said. Each day she uses frequent assessments to keep aware of her students’ changing needs and adjust her instruction. She checks for understanding through active group participation or individually during transition times such as lining up for recess or dismissal. "These quick glimpses into their understanding allow me to focus on the skills and objectives learned every day. Children take responsibility for their learning. Their patterns of performance and understanding emerge, allowing me to evaluate my daily teaching." For Padilla, it’s all a part of making sure that she offers students the opportunity to do their best. She has high expectations for her own work. "High standards mean that I assess and reflect daily on my teaching and plan according to the outcomes," she said. "I keep learning because I am never satisfied (and) I share what I have learned with others." On the first day of school in Laura Angell’s classroom, students hold a mock funeral that is essential for their learning. "The first lesson is called the ‘I Can’t’ funeral," Angell said. "Students write down all the things they believe they can’t do. After they have completed their list, they are instructed to rip it up and promise to replace the ‘I Can’t’ with ‘I Can, I’ll Try, I Will!’ Their signatures on the ‘I Can’t’ headstone affirm their commitment. The headstone remains in a prominent place in the classroom throughout the year." She realized the value of her exhaustive lesson preparation when a student wrote to thank her. "Previous teachers had told her to ‘just keep trying’ when she didn’t understand something," Angell said. "She said I was the only one who re-explained the steps until she understood the concept. I have spent literally hundreds of hours meticulously scripting out text and breaking down concepts into kid-friendly jargon so my students can see a clear progression from one step to another. "Her letter brought tears to my eyes. It showed me that my efforts and time had been well spent. It gave me the inspiration to continue doing this time-consuming task so that all my students could acquire the skills necessary to be world-class competitors." Angell’s efforts have resulted in higher standardized test results. In all areas, her students outperformed district averages on the 2003-04 California Content Standards Test. "My students are also assessed on a daily, weekly and monthly basis," she said. "I know how my students are doing at all times and tailor my instruction to match the needs of the class." A remarkable endorsement of her teaching skill came from the parent of a former student. The mother had been critical of Angell’s high expectations for her daughter, but last year had asked for her son to be placed in her class. "During the parent conference, she told me her daughter’s success in middle school was a direct result of my instruction and high expectations," Angell said. "She said the skills and discipline I taught her daughter in fourth and fifth grade enabled her to be the honor student she is today." Angell’s dedication to students includes starting an after-school homework club and using her vacation time to teach an intersession course. She is totally committed to her students' growth. "The day I stop caring so passionately will be the day I give up teaching," she said. For Stephen Dublin, the best way to learn is by doing. He simulates all key aspects of economics and government in his classes. "From a 20-minute simulation teaching the concept of ‘opportunity costs’ to a three-week presidential election simulation to a nine-week international negotiations simulation, I train and allow my students to be responsible for their own learning." He considers a student’s comment that he made a difficult subject easy as a supreme compliment. It’s one of his classroom goals. "If students are engaged, they will learn," said Dublin. "I really enjoy performing in front of my students. I sing. I dance. I act. But that only partially describes why my class is fun." For years he has required community service for his students, long before the district made it a graduation requirement. His students have been honored twice by the American Red Cross for their work. The City of Long Beach and the County of Los Angeles recognized his students for outstanding work in local and national elections. "A very important role of a teacher is helping students realize the significant role they have in serving their community and helping others to take action," he said. To maximize student responsibility for learning, Dublin wrote a proposal four years ago to establish the PEACE Academy at Millikan. Now in its third year, PEACE Academy brings together 400 students and 14 teachers who value and practice community service, mentoring, involvement in real-world problem solving, character education and ethical behavior. "Working with this group of talented, dedicated and enthusiastic teachers has rejuvenated me," he said. "I feel very blessed. After 31 years of teaching, I am doing my best work. A former student once commented to him, "You care more about our grades than we do."