News-AZ Republic

7 Valley teachers earn Rodel Exemplary Teacher honors

Arizona Republic – November 29, 2013

Seven teachers in Maricopa County and 11 statewide were named a Rodel Exemplary Teacher.

The Scottsdale-based Rodel Foundation of Arizona annually selects outstanding teachers from around Arizona to mentor new teachers.

The winning teachers receive $5,000 and agree to mentor about six student-teachers over the next three years.

The foundation partners with Arizona colleges of education and teacher preparation programs to pair Rodel Exemplary Teachers with promising student teachers. The idea is to provide soon-to-be teachers with role models who are succeeding in the classroom.

The Rodel Foundation provided insights from each of the Valley’s winning teachers.

Audra Damron

Damron teaches preschool Desert Oasis Elementary School in Phoenix, part of the Tolleson Elementary District. The Bowling Green State University graduate has spent four years in education. She’s taught students with Asperger’s Syndrome, second grade and has spent the past two years teaching preschoolers.

On engaging students: “In a world filled with technology and entertainment around every corner, our job as teachers is similar to that of an entertainer. I sing, dance, make jokes, anything that will catch the student’s eye and capture their attention when teaching a concept. From there, I use hands-on, real life activities to engage students. I believe in allowing each student to find their own meaning in a concept. In doing this, they are not just finding the answer to a question, but discovering new questions in which to seek out answers.”

A tip for new teachers:
“Be open to new ideas and perspectives. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Flexibility is huge during your first years of teaching. No one expects you to know everything, and teaching is a unique profession in which you get to collaborate with those who have been doing it longer, experienced more and can help you avoid some of those first year speed bumps.”

On collaboration:
“I am very fortunate to work in a district that not only provides constant support and opportunities for collaboration but fosters it through the Professional Learning Community model. Having constant access to other colleagues, coaches and support specialists allows me to come up with innovative ways to teach, modify and extend lessons. I am always on the lookout for something new that will help our students better understand and connect to concepts. Adding on to this amazing opportunity is the fact that our parents are eager to be involved in their child’s learning process. Teaming up with parents ensures that the learning does not halt when the school day ends but rather continues on, even when the student leaves the classroom.”

Jennifer Lauzon

Lauzon earned a bachelors from ASU, a masters from Northern Arizona University and she is a National Board Certified Teacher. She’s spent 23 years in the classroom. She teaches special education at Acacia Elementary in the Washington Elementary School District in Phoenix.

Bragging rights: “My greatest source of pride about my school, classroom, and students is the commitment to educational excellence on behalf of our learning community. Acacia Elementary continually seeks opportunities to strengthen instructional approaches and meet the needs of all learners. My classroom is focused on the latest research-based programs and instructional strategies that meet the needs of special education students. My students gain a sense of pride in their accomplishments as they experience success both in the resource room and with the support of their homeroom teachers.”

On collaboration:
“Collaboration with colleagues and community partners is the foundation for a student’s success. Our students benefit from our ability to identify their educational and emotional needs and the collaborative efforts to address these needs at the school and community levels.”

On mentors: “One lesson I learned from a mentor was to listen attentively and to make sure to acknowledge other people’s perspectives. I believe this lesson has helped me to develop positive working relationships with many parents and colleagues.”

Nathan Maruca

Maruca teaches fifth grade at Aguilar Elementary School in the Tempe Elementary District. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University and has gone on to earn a master’s degree. He has spent 11 years in education, including eight years as a kindergarten teacher.

On learning from a mentor: “Teaching demands an unconditional love of students and a tremendous work ethic; as I have seen from observing my mom, my number one mentor, teach for the past 31 years. This is not an occupation for the weak of heart; it takes countless hours of preparation and entails time spent outside of the workday in order to be successful. It is all worth it when you see those faces light up, realizing that they ‘got it!’”

A tip for parents: “Parents should instill a sense of importance in the learning process and show an enthusiastic interest in their child’s learning starting at an early age. Time should be set aside daily to become involved and ask questions of their child; asking about the successes and challenges their child encountered throughout their school day. Parents, ask questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no, and validate the importance of your child’s learning.”

On collaboration: “I am fortunate to work with colleagues that embrace the fact that collaboration and working together as a team benefits our students. Everyone shares in the responsibility of the student learning process. Brainstorming and implementing the best instructional strategies makes a difference.”

Jorge Ontiveros

Ontiveros is a University of Phoenix graduate who has spent five years in education. He teaches sixth grade at Palomino Intermediate School in Phoenix, part of the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

On engaging students:
“As a teacher, it is imperative to understand that all students are unique and learn differently. As educators, we have to make sure that we are open-minded and flexible to ensure that we engage all students at all times. I use technology on a daily basis in my classroom because students tend to gravitate toward learning through iPads, computers and other technology. No matter what, we have to remember that the students come first.”

A tip for parents: “The one tip that I would give to all parents is to make education a priority in your household. Whether it’s asking about their day at school, talking about college or attending school events such as parent conferences or data nights. Developing an after-school routine that will provide them with a conducive learning environment and time to complete their homework is important. It is essential to understand that we are a team and together we can succeed.”

On mentors: “One of the greatest lessons I have learned from a mentor is that, as humans, we are bound to make mistakes. Many people tend to look at mistakes as failures, but we should embrace these moments as opportunities to become better people. What defines the character of a person is how we learn and grow from these situations. Every mistake made is an opportunity to learn something new.”

Christine Pentkowski

Pentkowski earned her degree from Arizona State University’s West Campus and has spent nine years in education. She teaches third grade at Granada Primary School in Phoenix, part of the Alhambra Elementary District

On collaboration: “Collaboration with my colleagues has definitely made me a more effective educator. We meet often to look at many types of data, such as quarterly testing, unit pre and post assessments, and real time assessments. This data drives our instruction. We examine student work as another form of data, which allows us to discover student misconceptions and influences the direction of our lessons. Our team works together to deconstruct the Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards and collaborate to create meaningful lessons. Collaboration allows us to be more intentional in our instruction. In addition, our community members are avid supporters of my school. In fact, it is not unusual to see community business owners donating supplies or volunteering their time to help our students. Our students benefit from impactful school-based and community collaboration, and for that, I amgrateful.”

On mentors: “I have had the great fortune of working alongside many inspirational and highly effective administrators and colleagues. Frequent and valuable collaboration has indeed made me a better educator; however, the most important lesson I learned as a new teacher occurred when I was a student teacher. My mentor teacher shared her favorite quote with me: “Studentsmay not always remember every lesson you taught them, but they will always remember the way you made them feel.” I will never forget the words she spoke or the meaningful impact her words had on me as a beginning teacher. To this day, this powerful quote is something I live by and also share with the beginning teachers that I have had the opportunity to mentor.”

Bragging rights:
“My students define my success. The pride they feel within themselves when they have discovered a solution to a difficult problem, or reached a fluency goal, keeps me going with full momentum. My students understand the high expectations that I know they can reach and not only do they reach those goals, they exceed them. There is a feeling of success, grounded in collaboration and shared drive for achievement, for all of the students and staff at my school.”

Tasha Smith

Smith earned a bachelors from ASU, a masters from NAU and has taught for six years. She teaches fourth grade at Cloves C. Campbell Elementary in the Roosevelt School District in Phoenix.

A tip for parents: “Over the years, I have given many tips to parents to help their children succeed. But, the most crucial tip I suggest to parents is to spend time with their children. Whether the time is spent reading together, checking homework or just having a conversation about the school day would help to guide successfulness in students.”

Bragging rights: “At the end of each school day I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride knowing that I positively impacted at least one student’s life. Students in communities like the one I work in are often “written off” by society. Waking up daily, going to a place where I know I’m making a difference, and that I am someone these students can look up to and admire makes all my long hours and hard work worth it.”

On data-driven decisions: “An essential component of my instruction involves ongoing analysis of up-to-date student data. Analyzing this data on a consistent basis helps me prioritize my teaching. Planning in this manner allows me to provide and differentiate necessary instruction.”

Tiffany Thompson

Thompson teaches fifth grade at Whitman Elementary School in the Mesa Public School. She’s has a masters degree and has spent just more than four years in the classroom.

On Engaging students: “I learn about each of their interests, likes, dislikes, hobbies and the special occasions in their lives. Then, I incorporate what’s important to them into my lessons. I also look for ways to allow my students to interact with one another, whether that be through academic discussions or hands-on activities.”

On collaboration: “Collaborating with my colleagues and community partners allows me to learn more about available resources and broaden the range of my instructional strategies. These new strategies and resources make me a more effective teacher and this, of course, benefits my students. Every student learns in his or her own way, and the more I can learn from others and bring that learning into my classroom, the better my students’ chances for success in school and in life.”

A tip for parents: “Read, listen and try to help. Reading with your child is one of the most beneficial ways to help a child develop a love of learning and be successful in school. Listen to them when they want to share what they are learning or when they are struggling. This lets them see that you understand the importance of school and care about their success. Lastly, try and help when and where you can. If parents, children and teachers work together, as a community, we build a strong foundation and provide the opportunity for every child to succeed.”