This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa or Facebook.com/TheresaHarringtonBANG.
Every year, I look forward to attending the Warren W. Eukel Teacher Trust Awards dinner to hear inspiring speeches from three educators selected to receive $10,000 each in recognition of their exemplary work.
This year, Acalanes High English teacher Natalie Moore compared her time with each student to hanging out with them on a porch, Hanna Ranch Elementary teacher Sarah Creeley summed up her teaching experiences as giving and receiving love, and Kensington Hilltop Elementary teacher Beatrice Lieberman said she often plays her trusty guitar and sings to her students, who respond enthusiastically to the arts.
"The profession of teaching is misnamed," Moore said. "To me, it should be called being a 'learner.'"
Even though she has read "To Kill a Mockingbird" numerous times with classes over the years, Moore said she learns something new each time. For example, after reading the last chapter of the book this year, one of her students pointed out that Scout Finch was on the porch of Boo Radley, seeing things from Boo's perspective.
The student reminded the class that Scout's father had previously told her that you never really understand a person until you see things from his point of view. Moore said her students discussed empathy and compassion and learning through their parents' examples, along with the importance of seeing things from other points of view.
"I sat back, I listened, I learned," she said. "Because that's really what teaching is -- it's standing on the porch of our students' minds and seeing things from their points of view. It's seeing things from fresh new perspectives outside of ourselves, every year, every day, every period."
As students move on at the end of the year, teachers move off their porches and make room for new students.
"As we step away from them," she said, "we hope that at least one lesson, at least one memory, will be carried with them as they expand, remodel, develop."
Creeley thanked her family and her education mentors for their inspiration.
"For me, tonight is all about love," she said. "The love my family gives me, the love I give to my students, the love they give to me, love for our community and all who are there."
She said some people tell her she is always smiling and always happy. After working with special education students who had no choices in their lives, Creeley said she always feels grateful.
"I don't care how much money I have," she said. "I am poor. I'll tell you right now. But, I'm rich, because I realize how lucky I am. And I just would like for everybody to appreciate those things that we have -- that may seem so simple -- but are so tremendous to so many people."
Lieberman took the opportunity to talk not only about her classroom teaching, but her education philosophy.
"First and foremost, the humanity of all children should be honored at all times," she said. "There is no magic formula or one-size-fits-all method."
Nothing, she said, can substitute for the warmth and nurturing a teacher can provide. Her secrets, she said, are music and great stories.
"With my fearless guitar, I use great folk songs or songs I write myself," she said. "The best teaching and learning occurs when art is wed to academics."
She railed against standardized curriculum, saying teachers must have a voice in discussions about changes.
"Children are not factory products and they are not for sale," she said. "We must not let anyone's financial interest in our tax dollars drill the beauty of learning out of our children."
A formulaic curriculum and high stakes testing will not take the country in the direction it needs to go, she said.
"Education is a basic human right," Lieberman said. "We need to work together not to fill the pail, but to light the fire to ignite the desire in children to learn."
I also got a chance to chat briefly with Sarah Peddie, who won the award last year.
"When you win something like this," Peddie said, "it just re-energizes you for the next millennium."