Mike Bird, Stephanie Martin, and Crystal Ochoa have been chosen as Poway Unified School District Teachers of the Year for 2014-2015 from a distinguished list of school site teachers of the year. A committee of past winners and school administrators selected the three district-level Teachers of the Year. All the honorees have incorporated exemplary learning programs into their teaching, and are making a positive difference to the students of the Poway Unified School District.
Mike BirdHS Geoscience & HS Physics, Mt. Carmel High School
After 25 years in teaching, Mike Bird feels his greatest accomplishments in education come in the form of notes, written by students reflecting on his “kindness, respect, and big heart.” “Each day I try to bring a passion, love, and enthusiasm into the classroom about my subject matter that hopefully, somehow rubs off on my students,” says Bird. “If my students leave my classroom at the end of the year with a greater appreciation of the world around them and how it works, I feel that I have fulfilled my purpose as an educator.”
In his Geoscience and Physics classroom at Mt. Carmel High School, Mike encourages his students to “discover” answers by thinking through problems, trial and error, questioning, and spending time in research and collaboration. This process of discovery takes on different forms including computer programs that allow students to visualize certain events, gather data, and then use that data to reach conclusions about scientific concepts and principles. Students in Mike’s classroom also engage in a great deal of hands-on learning. “Whether it is teaching the rock cycle to a Geoscience class through the use of melted Starburst Candy, or teaching about flotation and Archimedes’ Principle to a Physics class through the famous Physics Boat Project, students are becoming more connected with science and the world around them.”
In addition to teaching, Mike has coached boys and girls volleyball at the middle, high school, , and club volleyball levels for 25 years, with several of his former players going on to play in college, to compete in the Olympics, and become coaches themselves. His love, concern and passion for educating students in the classroom and on the court have created a legacy of students and student athletes continuously returning and reaching out to Mr. Bird to express their gratitude for his guidance. . “Their ‘thank you’ lets me know I made a difference in kids’ lives. So simple, yet so profound.”
Transitional Kindergarten, Willow Grove Elementary School
Every student comes to school with individual needs – some are obvious, but others lie deep within and too often goundetected. These are the needs that speak directly to Stephanie Martin, who credits her fifth grade teacher with inspiring her. Struggling with difficult home life as a child, , Stephanie attended school for many years “under the radar” until her fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Peters, noticed changes in Stephanie’s appearance and behavior and responded by showing up at softball practices, attending the school’s ice cream socials with her, and encouraging Stephanie to try out for the school play. “For the first time in my life,” says Stephanie, “I had consistent love and an adult who believed in me. Her love unlocked the potential I had within myself.”
Throughout her twenty year career as a teacher, these childhood experiences have grounded Stephanie: “While I can teach the standards, my greatest accomplishment is that I bring out the best in my students because I understand the importance of meeting their academic and social-emotional needs equally.” Her classroom practice balances instruction in emotional and intelligence quotients (EQ and IQ) and teaches students they must recognize emotions in themselves in order to manage them and be able to learn in a meaningful, successful way.
A passionate advocate for Transitional Kindergarten, Stephanie has created and piloted a number of benchmarks, rubrics and programs for Transitional Kindergarten, combining Common Core State Standards instructions alongside programs to develop social awareness, communication, and problem solving.
Active at her site and throughout the District on a wide range of committees, Stephanie also serves as Elementary Vice President of the Poway Federation of Teachers.
One-on-one connection with her students and positively impacting their lives are the keys to her own and her students’ successes. “I want my students to know that their circumstances do not define them, and that they have someone who believes in them and values them every day at school.”
Crystal OchoaK-5 Resource Specialist, Sunset Hills Elementary School
Crystal Ochoa describes her long-ago dream to become a lawyer as, “I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless.” Crystal’s career dreams changed in high school when she met a hearing-impaired student and began volunteering in the Life Skills classroom on her campus. “These students needed a champion and I wanted to be that champion.” After graduating from college with honors as a single mom of a three-year-old she knew she wanted to focus her career on helping children recognize and strive to meet their potential.
When Crystal arrived at Sunset Hills Elementary School three years ago, she was tasked with educating - staff, students, and parents about what a successful Resource Program can and should be. “My open door classroom policy lends itself to establishing trust and effective lines of communication with both parents and teachers,” she explains. “I also lead training sessions with the Instructional Assistants in how to best meet the needs of our Special Education students.”
Recognizing that some Special Education students were not receiving Common Core-aligned math instruction, Crystal researched and compiled relevant materials and created binders for Special Education teachers. She also leads CHAMPS instruction (a positive behavior and interventions support system) for interested teachers at her site, believing that “this innovation will translate to a better management system in general education, as well as a consistency of expectations across the school campus.”
Crystal explains, “I have worked with each student to not only ensure that they have basic skills, but also goal setting, perseverance, and a confidence in their ability to achieve. When I reflect back on my [fifteen] years of teaching, my thoughts immediately go back to the students who were identified as having big roadblocks in their learning and now pursuing their dreams. All students can and will learn.”