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Three Named Top Teachers

Three outstanding Long Beach Unified School District teachers have been selected as 2009 Teachers of the Year. Patricia “Tish” Bonner teaches third grade GATE classes at Madison Elementary School. Joyce Mariko Chino teaches adapted physical education from kindergarten through Grade 8 at Stanford Middle School and Whittier and Henry elementary schools. Chris Eckert teaches fourth grade at Tincher Preparatory School. The three were honored recently at a luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles County Office of Education for top teachers throughout the county. Bonner sees teaching as more than just the imparting of knowledge. “It is an art,” she said. “It is the teacher who paints a collaboration among child, parent, district and state standards, and yet still manages to make learning a joy.” Though she characterizes the composition of her classes as “like a mini-United Nations,” Bonner uses her classroom to create powerful shared experiences. “A wonderful benefit of the Baldrige training in LBUSD has been the use of self-assessment and record keeping,” she said “As my students track their progress in reading and math or spelling, they become very aware of the information, taking great delight in watching and tracking their own success. In no time at all they are setting their own goals based on their own records.” She believes that being prepared to expect the unexpected is an important part of being a good teacher. “A lesson may take a bird walk if a teachable moment occurs,” she said. “That interesting roofing crew pulling our attention across the street taught us about roof angles and endpoints and brought to vocabulary lessons the words ‘eaves,’ ‘tar pitch,’ ‘shingles’ and ‘area.’ Teachers are nothing if not creative. “A less-than-ideal day may mean an unexpected interruption such as a fire drill or a different learning outcome than the one planned. Every teacher has had challenges, and they may mean creative solutions.” Bonner can think back to the time when she chose the teaching profession and has no regrets. “Remembering my first step into my classroom as a student teacher, I can still feel those butterflies in my stomach,” she said. “Would I remember what I learned in those methods classes? Would the students listen and learn? Could I make school as happy a place for them as it was for me? I took a breath and stepped in — and into the most wonderful career I could have chosen.” Chino focuses on understanding the unique challenges and needs of the students in each of her adapted physical education classes and promotes many kinds of progress. “We celebrate small achievements and individual progress not typically measured in a general PE curriculum,” Chino said. “Sometimes success is demonstrated by having actively engaged students who are having fun during the physical activity.” Creating positive connections among students of different levels of capability is central to her teaching. “Fostering a culture of inclusion has been my greatest contribution in my teaching career thus far,” she said. “Eveything that I do is geared towards inspiring students to live physically active lifestyles and to understand and appreciate the unique differences of those around them.” She has supported many ways for the general student population to interact positively with students in her classes. “Peer coaches benefit as much as or more than the special education students,” she said. “One of the peer coaches wrote, ‘APE (Adapted Physical Education) is so great because you have peer coaches assist them, and they look at us as models. It makes me feel good helping them feel good about themselves.’ During each unit rotation there are only six students chosen to be peer coaches. Often, there are more volunteers than slots to fill. Becoming a peer coach is considered a privilege and a reward.” She believes that letting students shine for their accomplishments is critical. “Being an exemplary teacher does not mean you are the movie star of the class, but rather the director and effective leader who works behind the scenes and does whatever is necessary for your students’ success,” she said. “In my class, the students are always the star performers, and I do my best every day to direct, guide and facilitate their learning, using whatever means necessary so that they experience success.” Eckert sees student engagement as critical to his work as a teacher. “I learned early in my career that if students like what they’re doing, they learn more, work harder and retain more knowledge from the assignment, he said. “This drive to develop creative lessons has helped my students and me to make some incredible projects. Projects included building a complete skeleton, then attaching working circulatory, digestive, respiratory and nervous systems; performing a rat wedding so students could refine cooperative team skills and reinforce Internet research; and, most recently, infusing multimedia technologies to enhance instruction and increase student achievement.” His own childhood experiences helped to shape his teaching style. “I was fortunate to have several teachers who inspired me as a child,” he said. “These teachers helped me break out of my shell. They instilled the love of learning and made the classroom fun. They made me feel special, appreciated and created a place where I wanted to go every day. It has been my aspiration to continue this legacy in my own classroom.” After establishing firm classroom management and a cooperative learning ethic among his students, he seeks to excite and engage students in their learning. “It has been my experience that students who are excited and who are having fun will actively engage in their learning, complete more rigorous tasks and achieve more than with traditional teacher-centered modalities of instruction,” he said. Yet, he makes the distinction that there is more to his method than creating enjoyable lessons. “Teaching my students to have fun at school is not the primary focus of my teaching,” he said. “Learning is. “Through the infusion of creative projects, I teach students to enjoy school and enjoy learning. I teach them school is a place where they can explore and expand their knowledge through cooperation and teamwork. I teach them that knowledge is never-ending and by being excited to learn they will become lifelong learners.”