PLEASANT HILL -- Two elementary school teachers and one middle school educator are vying to be named Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year at a Thursday awards dinner.

The finalists are Deborah Bordeau, who teaches third grade at Laurel Elementary in the Oakley school district; Donna Kenyon, a fifth-grade teacher at John Baldwin Elementary in the San Ramon Valley district; and Sue Noce, who teaches Spanish and reading at Foothill Middle School in the Mt. Diablo district.

The finalists were chosen from among 20 representatives selected by school districts and the Contra Costa County Office of Education in the spring. A panel of community members narrowed the list to five, then three, after screening written applications, observing teachers in their classrooms, conducting interviews and listening to presentations.

All three women have been teaching for many years, and say they enjoy collaborating with other educators to improve instruction. They also care deeply about their students and go out of their way to engage them in school activities.

Bordeau said she encourages children to respect each other, make wise decisions and take the initiative to solve problems, whether with a classmate or an assignment. The result is that youngsters feel important and become more responsible, she said.

"I love working with children," Bordeau said. "I always have. It's a job that's not stagnant, it's always changing. I think for the most part, teaching is something that is a calling, and you just feel it."

Kenyon said she is passionate about literacy and is very involved in Columbia University's reading and writing project, which teaches students strategies they can use as they progress to middle and high school. For example, she teaches students to write in a "small moment" by describing a character's feelings through gestures and facial expressions.

"Rather than saying, 'He was sad,' they might say, 'His hands shook while tears dripped down his face,' " Kenyon said. "It's 21st century learning -- teaching kids to learn those skills we really need in the workforce -- collaboration, critical thinking, curiosity, that kind of thing."

Noce said she has taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels over a span of 35 years. She tries to connect with each of her students by engaging them in conversation and finding out a little about them, she said.

She finds these connections help to motivate students to do well in school.

"I just enjoy the students," she said. "Sometimes, it's a challenge. But most of all, it's inspiring."

The county teacher of the year will go on to compete for the state title.

2011-12 Teacher of the year representatives
Candidates chosen from each district (in alphabetical order by last name):
Emma Arellano Flores, Pittsburg district (Los Medanos Elementary)
Donna Aspell, Knightsen district (Knightsen Elementary)
Deborah Bordeau, Oakley Union Elementary district (Laurel Elementary)
Nanci Buckingham, West Contra Costa district (Fairmont Elementary)
Steve Coccimiglio, Contra Costa Community College District (Diablo Valley College)
Diane Dias, Walnut Creek district (Walnut Creek Intermediate)
Marie Graham-Tyler, County Office of Education (Mauzy School)
Thomas Gravert, Antioch district, (Dozier-Libbey Medical High)
Nichole Hackett, Mt. Diablo district (College Park High)
Donna Kenyon, San Ramon Valley district (John Baldwin Elementary)
Morgan LaRue, West Contra Costa district (Lavonya De Jean Middle)
Carroll Martin, Lafayette district (Burton Valley Elementary)
Sue Noce, Mt. Diablo district (Foothill Middle)
Kristin Ortega, Byron district (Discovery Bay Elementary)
Carol Scott, Moraga district (Camino Pablo Elementary)
Patsy Templeton, Orinda district (four district elementary schools)
Gina Terry, Brentwood district (Bristow Middle)
Renee Travis, Martinez district (Morello Park Elementary)
Jeremy Umland, John Swett district (Rodeo Hills Elementary)
Michael Wood, Liberty district (Heritage High)
  • More information about the competition is available by calling 925-942-3429 or visiting www.cccoe.k12.ca.us. Click on "News."
  • Additional details are in the On Assignment blog at IBAbuzz.com/onassignment