Five extraordinary educators and CTA members have been named as the 2018 California Teachers of the Year.
In announcing the winners on Oct. 11, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson noted that the educators have made a great impact in their schools and communities.
“These teachers are deeply committed, hardworking and creative,” Torlakson said. “They help students find their inner strengths and achieve their dreams, while inspiring, challenging and supporting them every day. They represent the best of their profession.”
Torlakson will honor the winners, finalists and semifinalists at a gala in Sacramento Feb. 12, 2018.
Palm Springs Teachers Association
Music, band and choir
Painted Hills Middle School
“An outstanding teacher is an earthquake looking for every opportunity to burst through the surface and change the world. [That] teacher can generate countless aftershocks long after they’ve passed on.”
Brian McDaniel had to overcome poverty and homelessness in his life, which no doubt helped him understand some of the problems his students face. Besides teaching them about music and theory, he is their advocate, academic coach, mentor, counselor and friend.
“He is our role model and champion,” say students Brandon Ulin, Painted Hills band president, and Kathryne Whalen, choir president. “He understands our issues because they were once his. He helps us with family issues, insecurities, bullying, and always finds a way to make us feel better.”
McDaniel has been teaching instrumental and vocal music for 11 years, including two years at Painted Hills. He leads The Regiment, a combined band and choir program where every member is challenged to rise above expectations and cultivate an attitude of gratitude and a heart of service.
He also serves as director of bands and choirs at both Painted Hills and Bella Vista Elementary School, and is an adjunct professor at Brandman University, School of Arts and Sciences. Torlakson has nominated McDaniel as California’s candidate to compete against other state nominees for National Teacher of the Year.
San Diego Education Association
English and film studies
San Diego High School of International Studies
“ My personal mantra: ‘Kodomo no tame ni’ — ‘For the sake of the children’ in Japanese. Teachers can serve as powerful linchpins of support and compassion for our students. Why do we do what we do? Kodomo no tame ni.”
Jaime Brown, a 14-year teacher, says she has been shaped by many positive teachers, but she also experienced racism and prejudice from one teacher. Both experiences helped her find her own voice to speak out against preconceptions and injustice, and make certain her students are able to stand up for themselves.
Her rigorous and demanding courses offer group discussions where students can share their feelings and concerns. Principal Carmen García says, “Jaime embodies a ‘You can do it and I’m here to support you’ attitude by ensuring students have a voice in their education. She understands the immense pressure they are going through, and reminds them that their success, through perseverance and diligent practice, is around the corner.”
United Teachers Los Angeles
Venice High School
“I have taught future doctors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and paramedics. Because of what has happened in Shop-6 at Venice High School, someone’s life will be saved.”
Growing up in a military family and constantly moving from place to place has given Kirsten Farrell a special understanding of the importance and stability that a teacher can provide to students. She credits her outstanding fifth-grade teacher for inspiring her to become a teacher.
Farrell has been teaching for 21 years, the last 15 at Venice High, where she is the lead for the Sports Medicine Academy. As an ROCP career technical education teacher, she provides students with hands-on skills and experiences that can be transferred to careers and college. She’s also a nationally certified athletic trainer and leads a team of student trainers who know CPR and emergency action plans.
Student Gia Perrone says, “From giving someone a place to heal to a place to feel welcome, we always know we can count on Ms. Farrell.”
Huntington Beach Union High School District Educators Association
AP and SAC environmental sciences and biology
Edison High School
“My challenge to my colleagues all across America is this: Join me. Innovate. Sustain. Connect. Together, we can improve education for all our students. And our students will change the world.”
A science teacher for 18 years, Gregory Gardiner teaches AP classes and started an environmental science program at Edison for students with special needs. He is a founding member of the Academy of Sustainability and Engineering, a group of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) courses that is now a model for the district.
He’ been instrumental in creating an innovation lab where students can have hands-on experiences, problem-solve, and build sustainable systems applying STEAM concepts. Lab projects include aquaculture breeding programs for tilapia and a remote-controlled hydrogen fuel cell car project.
Edison High colleague Elliot Skolnick says of Gardiner, “There is nothing he will not do to help a student or cause reach their potential.”
Castaic Teachers Association
First and second grade
Northlake Hills Elementary School
“Teaching is an ever-evolving profession, requiring teachers to embrace change and a growth mindset. I never lose sight of what is best for my students.”
Erin Oxhorn-Gilpin, an 11-year teacher, uses creativity and hands-on lessons to teach her students the basics of reading and writing. One example is a unit where students learn about snails via a picture book, snail races and snail mail. Her young charges organized a fundraiser for the local animal shelter, donating the money raised, and learning how they could continue their partnership.
“It is that ‘moving forward’ attitude that makes her one of the best teachers ever,” says Castaic Union School District Assistant Superintendent Janene Maxon. “Erin is always reflective, always thinking of ways in which to improve, planning next steps for our students’ continued progress.”
The California Teachers of the Year Program
Presented by California Casualty and the California Teachers of the Year Foundation, the program began in 1972 to honor outstanding teachers. County offices of education nominate educators through their county-level competitions.
A state selection committee reviews candidates’ applications and conducts site visits to evaluate teachers’ rapport with students, classroom environment, presentation skills and teaching techniques. Teachers are interviewed by the California Department of Education. The state superintendent then selects awardees. For information, visit California Teacher of the Year.