Disney Prize Teacher Relates to Students

Before you can teach content, you must build relationships. That’s the sage advice of Millikan High School’s Roberta Patterson, one of 45 finalists for the Disney Teaching Award. The national honor recognizes teachers who use innovative methods to engage students in learning. "Once you know one another, you start trusting each other and helping each other," said Patterson, an accomplished art teacher and scholarship adviser. She uses a method of classroom organization called "Tribes." "We stress respect and peer teaching in a small learning community," she said. "The best thing you can be to another person is a good example." After Patterson’s demonstration on watercolor techniques, one student announced to the class, "In 10 minutes, you can come to our table to see the dry brush technique." "We have the ‘I can’ attitude," she said. Her students win frequent awards and honors at many juried art shows and competitions. Their work has been displayed in the halls of Congress. "When they want to apply themselves, we can go great places together," she said. An outstanding teacher at Millikan for 13 years and at Hughes Middle School for a decade, Patterson often receives calls, letters and e-mail from former students. One recently sent her a five-page letter describing how her belief in him had motivated him to shed some self-destructive habits and become a serious college student. Her students have gone on to earn full-ride scholarships to Stanford and to graduate school at Otis Art Institute in New York. Her own two children have also excelled as Millikan graduates. Her son is earning his Ph.D. at Harvard. In addition to being a superb teacher and parent, she helps many students apply for college admission and scholarships. She is the adviser of Young Black Scholars and Young Scholars groups at Millikan. More than 50,000 teachers in the U.S. applied for the Disney Teaching Award. As one of 45 finalists, Patterson will receive a $10,000 prize plus $5,000 for her school. She will be honored in July at a special ceremony at Disneyland. At that ceremony, she will make a four-minute presentation to a panel of experts. They will select four winners. Each will receive an additional $15,000. The 45 finalists will also vote for the overall outstanding teacher of the year. That top national winner will receive another $15,000. Patterson is a National Board Certified teacher. She was a peer assistance and review consulting teacher and mentor teacher. She also was a Long Beach Unified School District Teacher of the Year and Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year in 2001.