Correspondent

SAN RAMON VALLEY -- The paths to the classroom for the two San Ramon Valley school district teachers nominated for Contra Costa County Teacher of the year could not be any different.

It took Cindy Egan 25 years and an engineering career before her path led to San Ramon Valley High School. For Nicholas Zefeldt his path began with a back packing trip through South America right after college and a stint as an assistant swim coach before he landed at Live Oak Elementary.

But the one thing Egan and Zefeldt share is their love for children and their desires to not only teach their students the curriculum but life lessons that they have learned along the way.

Egan and Zefeldt were among 22 educators from Contra Costa County that were nominated for the county's Teacher or the Year award, which will be given out on Sept. 26. The Contra Costa County Office of Education selected semifinalists Tuesday, but those results were not available by deadline.

Here is a look at the two teachers of the year for the San Ramon Valley School district:

Cindy Egan

Cindy Egan spent the better part of a quarter century working her way up and then running a Bay Area engineering firm before she left for what was supposed to be a year break.


Advertisement

The mother of four girls, Egan's break led her to San Ramon Valley High School for what she thought would be a job as a tutor at San Ramon Valley High School, but that tutoring turned into a substitute teacher after talking with the former principal.

"I went to talk the principal about tutoring and he said. 'You should be a teacher,'" said Egan, who teaches advanced placement environmental science and introduction to engineering.

"At first, I said, 'Oh no, teacher is not on my list.'" But Egan talked with her family and decided to trade in her engineer's salary for that of a teacher and has never looked back.

"I really believe this is what I was meant to do," she said. "I really love what I do and that I am making a difference."

In addition to the curriculum of her environmental science course and engineering class, Egan also provides her students with a tip of the week on Fridays in which she brings in work world topics to her students like the proper way to shake hands or what to order during a business lunch.

The transition has also come with challenges, including a significant pay difference, hours that are significantly longer than 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and having to be on her toes all the time.

"You have to be on all the time," Egan said. "At the engineering firm, if I was having a bad day I could shut the door and tell the secretary to take messages. When you teach you don't have that luxury. You have to have energy up and have to be on your toes because they will eat you alive."

Egan hopes she can be a role model for other professionals looking to make a career switch to teaching and has this advice.

"If you love being around young people and if you are willing to work hard but know you are making a difference in people's lives, this is the job for you," Egan said.

Nicholas Zefeldt

Nicholas Zefeldt always had an inclination that teaching was his calling, but it was not until he took a job coaching young swimmers for his former youth swim club after an after-college backpacking trip in South America that he realized he was born to teach.

"It is fun to pass on information to a new generation of people," said Zefeldt, who teaches fifth grade at Live Oak Elementary and is also the school's instructional technology coach for fellow teachers.

"Plus how great is it that I get to paid to be curious as an adult and share that with kids," he said. "That is who I am as person and I want to know stuff, and if I can model that for a kid, that is a neat way to make a living."

In his sixth year as a teacher, Zefeldt said the nomination was a shock and that it helped affirm what he is doing.

He said the hardest part of his job is all the activity that goes on outside of actual classroom time like grading, lesson planning and finding new ways to motivate kids.

"The scope of the job is incredible," he said. "You are not only a conveyor but you are a mentor to kids."

Like Egan, Zefeldt also brings outside lessons to his classroom. An avid athlete that partakes in triathlons, Zefeldt said that he is not only an academic educator but also a role model.

"I tell my kids that you have to push yourself," Zefeldt said. "I try to put my life into the classroom and let them know you have to voluntarily push yourself." In addition to teaching his young students, Zefeldt also has the opportunity to help his fellow teachers by introducing them to technology and ways to incorporate it into their daily lesson plans.

"Technology can be intimidating," Zefeldt said. "But I get to make them comfortable with it and incorporate it into our students' education."

---