Teachers of the Year 2012-13


Teachers of the Year 2012-13:

Published by the Valencia County News-Bulletin. Copyright 2013

Full capsules for all teachers can be found on this page below the print version.




Bill Austell
Valencia Middle School
Grade: Sixth through 12th grade
Education: Bachelor of music education degree from Indiana University, Bloomington; plus graduated hours from East Stroudsburg (Penn.), Indiana University and West Chester (Penn.) University. Since then, I have earned 46 graduate credits from (PA), three credits, education, West Chester University (PA), nine credits, music education, and Indiana University, (IN), 34 credits, music education and music performance.
Family: Daughter, Kristina; and son, Alexander.
How long have you been teaching? 33 years
Why did you choose teaching?
“As a musician and music teacher, I am lucky enough to be able to do what I love for a living! I almost went to college for pre-med. Before my senior year of high school, however, my dad asked me what would make me happy for the rest of my life and that was easy — something in music! In fact, I really don’t think of it as a job. It’s hard work sometimes, to be sure. After all, I work with kids in grades 6-12 and they all have their ‘moments.’ However, there’s nothing like it for me.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“I feel the most rewarding aspect of the teaching profession is the investment we make in the future. As teachers, I believe we have the daily opportunity to help make our world a better place in which to live. With a smile on our face, hope in our eyes, strength in our voice, and love in our heart, we can help cultivate within our students the dreams and passions that will lead them to a bright future.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“I believe the most important thing I do to inspire my students to learn is to consistently dedicate myself to being the best possible teacher I can be. Doing this includes, but is not limited to, eight ways of continuing my own personal professional development: 1. I work diligently to know my subject area; 2. I try to make sure everything we do has a purpose. None of us has time to waste; 3. I practice what I preach. I expect from students and peers what I am willing to expect of myself; 4. I strive to always know where I am going: By the end of the class, the end of the week, the end of the month, etc. I also work to create a momentum of learning in my classroom that will guide students to reach their peak performance at the right time; 5. Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm! I believe organization and structure helps to create an atmosphere that minimizes distractions and maximizes creativity; 6. Know how to be personable and respectful! After all, this is a people business! It is important be able to sincerely say “please” and “thank you,” give compliments to others, know when and how to say ‘I’m sorry,’ and  how to admit a mistake; 7. ‘Communicate!’ And be able to do it in ways that make us human: with a smile, a handshake, a hug, a face-to-face conversation, or a combination of any or all of these; and 8. ‘Be generous!’ I strive to share my time, talent, and energy with others, just as others have so generously done for me. From my experience, these standards can go far to create a “living classroom” where the seeds of learning can be planted, cultivated, enriched and brought to full bloom.”

Anthony Baca
Valencia High School
Grade or subject teaching: Band: concert, jazz and marching band
Education: Bachelor’s degree in education from the University of New Mexico
Family: Wife, Audra; son, Noah, 2 1/2
How long have you been teaching? 10 years
Why did you choose teaching as a career?
He’s always had a passion for music and psychology. When psychology didn’t suit him, he turned to the education side of music and got hooked after seeing students’ joy when they finally accomplished the assignment.
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“Seeing students recognize when they’re successful, when they’ve finally got it.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“It’s different for every student. Some students are emotional and I focus on finding the emotional thing that they enjoy. Some are logical and I look for the logical thing that they enjoy. If they enjoy something, they know it will lead to something greater.”

Michelle Darrah
Valencia Elementary
Grade or subject teaching: Sixth grade
Education: A bachelor’s degrees in art education and elementary education from the University of New Mexico.
Family: “I’m single, but I have several pets. I have a horse named Arrdiss. She’s a rare Icelandic horse; two dogs, Roland, the poodle, and Pearl, the Labrador retriever. She’s a rescue dog, and my cat, Jamie.”
How long have you been teaching? 20 years.
Why did you choose teaching as a career?
“Being with kids is the most fun and that’s really why I choose to teach. I love being with kids. It keeps me young.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“To see children understand new concepts in mathematics.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“By making interesting and fun lessons and challenging as well.”

Pam Davis
Los Lunas High School
Grade: Activities director; ninth through 12th grade
Education: Master’s degree in special education and history, Eastern New Mexico; Bachelor’s degree in education, ENMU; Administrative education degree from New Mexico Highlands University.
Family: Husband, Robert; son Richard, 27; and daughter, DeAnza, 22.
How long have you been teaching? 31 years.
Why did you choose teaching?
“When I went to college, I wanted to be a writer — I wanted to be sports writer. But one summer went home to Oklahoma to stay with my grandma. And one day someone had left special needs child on grandma’s door step. And I watched my grandma to teach that child to walk. That summer changed my life. I  decided I wanted to be a special ed teacher.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“Even though I’m not in classroom, I teach every day. I teach by example. I have a rapport with the kids. To be inspiring to them, you have to be real with them. They know I love them. They see it in my heart and in my voice. So they know I love them. I just try to be honest and real with them.”

Randi Hamilton
Raymond Gabaldon Elementary School
Grade: Fifth grade
Education: Master’s degree in environmental education from the University of New Mexico and bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Cal State Bakersfield. Teaching certificate from UNM
Family: Husband, Gary; two step-daughters, Kelsey and Tiffany; three grandchildren; and dog, Buddy.
How long have you been teaching? 24 years: five at a private school in Grants, 19 at RGE.
Why did you choose teaching as a career?
“I became interested in education because I have always loved working with children. Every year is a new challenge and I let my students know that they will always be one of my kids. My favorite time of the year is graduation because I love to get announcements from former students, it’s exceptionally outstanding to get an announcement from a student’s college graduation!”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“I try to inspire my students by using a sense of humor with learning and letting them know that mistakes are also a part of learning.”

Philip James
Ann Parish Elementary School
Grade or subject taught: Counselor
Education: Philosophy and theology degree from Urbaniana University in Rome, Italy; master’s degree from Divine Word College in the Philippines,; master’s in counseling from the University of New Mexico
Family: Father, five sisters and two brothers living in India.
How long have you been teaching? “For 32 years all total, 17 of those with Los Lunas Schools.”
Why did you chose education as a career?
“In a career, you don’t start saying ‘I want to be a teacher.’ It becomes who you are. My life has always been guided by my faith and prayer life. I really believe, no matter what, God will be there. You just have to listen the right way. Even in our mistakes, God guides us. I was invited into the Los Lunas Schools. The superintendent asked me to come and I asked, ‘To do what? I don’t have a degree in education.’ He told me that was just an ‘administrative detail.’ So I got the degree and I’m glad I did.”
What brings you the most joy in your work?
“The majority of parents have the mistaken idea that the job of an educator is to educate. I am a professional; parents are the educators. As a professional, how can I help you? My joy is helping parents prepare their children for life. Many think education is preparing kids for college. It’s not — it’s preparing them for life. Some need more help than others.”
How do inspire your students to learn?
“To be a good teacher you have to be a good student. A teacher prepares a lesson and presents it to kids. Some get it all right away, some get part of it and one, one doesn’t get any of it. What do you do with that one? That’s when you have to become the student of the student of the student, observing them. What are they interested in? How do they learn? Even when you don’t see a door, there is a window. Nothing is impossible when you approach it the right way. You have to keep trying.
“There are no bad kids. There is bad behavior. There are no bad parents. There is bad parenting. No matter what, you should never ever give up on a child, because they are a child.”

Jeffrey Jones
Bosque Farms Elementary School
Grade or subject taught: Sixth grade
Education: Bachelor of science in history and geography
How long have you been teaching? “Almost 17 years.”
Why did you chose teaching as a career?
“Because of some of my favorite teachers. There were a couple in elementary school and junior high, but a big part of it was the TV show ‘Welcome Back Kotter.’ I thought if you could teach and joke around and be fun, that would be great. I had a teacher like that — he was passionate and had a good time. I can joke with the kids but they know my line. It means a lot for the students to know I’m passionate about what I do.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“I teach math, which is ironic because I wasn’t very good at math, didn’t like it. So when a student really shows mastery of a concept they just exude confidence. Now they can take that confidence to the next level. I try to break things down to the basics and then build up.”
How do inspire your students to learn?
“I am honest with them. I don’t say I’m always right and I own my mistakes. Like I said, they know where the line is but they know me as a person and a teacher. You can’t always be super serious and I try to inspire them with jokes and passion and really build their confidence. I have to say I’m blessed. We have really good students at this school.”

Dru Logan
Belen Family School
Grade or subject taught: Fifth and sixth grades
Education: Graduated from high school in Clovis, and graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in elementary education from Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.
Family: Married for 44 years to retired educator, Ken Logan. They have a grown daughter, Kendra.
How long have you been teaching? “For 16 years at Belen Family School, and six years in Albuquerque prior to this.”
Why did you chose education as a career?
“I’ve always had a love for the kids. It’s the only avenue I knew to take in order to be able to do that, to work with the kids all the time, and I love teaching.”
What brings you the most joy in your work?
“I love it when the kids get it; when they get the concept of whatever is being taught. I love to see the light in their eyes when it finally registers. I just enjoy being around the kids.”
How do inspire your students to learn?
“I think a good sense of humor; it makes it more enjoyable for the kids when you can have a sense of humor. Enthusiasm, I love enthusiasm. When I’m enthusiastic about what I’m teaching, I think it inspires the kids. I think they catch that enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is my favorite thing. I love to be excited and enthusiastic around the kids to show the importance of whatever it is I’m teaching, you know because otherwise, when you’re teaching math, how exciting is math? Not real exciting, but if you can teach it with enthusiasm and bring in things that are relevant to math, every day common things, then that helps them to understand the importance of math. To me, that is important. Same thing with history. I love teaching history. What’s exciting about history? Absolutely nothing. So, if you’re excited about it yourself, and you relate it back to how this affects us as Americans, how this affects us here … then you can pull them into that. It’s all about enthusiasm. If you teach it dry and dull, that’s going to be not their favorite subject.”

Staci March
Century High School
(This is Staci March’s fourth Teacher of the Year award. She’s taught at Century for four years; it’s the third year in a row she’s received this honor.)
Grade or subject teaching: Special education English and the “E 20-20 program,” which is a credit-recovery program for students who had to leave school and came back.
Education: Graduated from University of New Mexico 2000 with bachelor’s degrees in education and special education; working on her master’s degree in administration.
Family: Husband, Joseph Perkins; children, J.J. March, 20, and Zoi Perkins, 6; and her parents, Ron and Joyce Williams, all of Los Lunas.
How long have you been teaching? 13 years
Why did you choose teaching as a career?
“She wanted to be a teacher since high school. “I was inspired by an English teacher and wanted to be like her.” Now she teaches Special Ed English.
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“It’s all joy. I can’t think of one thing that doesn’t bring me joy. Everyday is a joy.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“By teaching over and over that they can do it and that they deserve it. They can be successful.” She teases her students like a buddy, she counsels them like a mother. “I give everything to this place, from money to advice.”

David Marquez
Belen High School
Grade or subject taught: Special education
Education: Bachelor’s in education from Prescott College; working on master’s in administration
Family: Three adult children
How long have you been teaching?
“This is my 14th year.”
Why did you chose teaching as a career?
“When I started, I wanted to be Mr. Danner. I started in PE at NMSU, but then I started a family and ended up in law enforcement for eight years. When my kids got to school, I realized law enforcement wasn’t conducive to a family. I started taking classes part-time and finished in 1999. My first position was with the Magdalena School District.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“When I see a kid, especially in special education, who has been struggling for a while, when I finally see that light. This might be the 18th time we’ve tried something a different way, but when they finally get it, it’s like the floodgates just open. Sometimes it’s that one thing and then everything else makes sense.”
How do inspire your students to learn?
“By making things relevant to life, bring in the real world. I sometimes bring in my law enforcement experience. In math, I will have them diagram a crash, the angles of the vehicles, speeds and tire marks can teach them a lot. And special education kids need concrete examples. I coached for a long time, so I bring in a lot of sports. In geometry, we do golf math and talk about angles. Sometimes I can sneak in a little probability. It’s not enough to see a picture or hear a definition or a formula.”

Cheryl Martinez
La Merced Elementary School
Grade: Fourth grade
Education: Bachelors of business administration from New Mexico State University, 1986;  Bachelors of science from College of Santa Fe, 1992.
Family: Husband, Willie; daughter, Kassandra, 24; and son, Dominic, 16.
How long have you been teaching? 26 years.
Why did you choose teaching?
“My first goal in life was to do something in the business field. But my mom was a teacher, my grandfather, Henry T. Jaramillo, was the superintendent of Belen Schools, a principal and a teacher. My aunts were teachers. I wanted to do something different so my first ambition was to be in business field but after working in Albuquerque and working the long hours I decided that being a mom was most important role in life and being teacher would help me fulfil that. After started teaching realized this is where my passion is. You could say I went into the family business.”
What brings you the most joy from teaching?
“Working with the kids and seeing that ‘Aha moment’ when they understand a concept they’ve been struggling with and their eyes light up and they say ‘This is so easy.’ It happens frequently.’
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“One of the things is the kids know when they’re in my class they are in a safe environment where they can take chances. I feel it’s so important for students to be in a positive space and a safe environment to reach their full potential and I feel my classroom is that.”

Tammy Medina
Desert View Elementary School
Grade or subject taught: Kindergarten
Education: Bachelor’s in elementary education with an endorsement in teaching English as a second language, licensed in special education, and a master’s degree in curriculum instruction with an emphasis in reading.
Family: Married 21 years to Andrew Medina; they have three children; Anthony, 21, Samantha 18, and Jonathan, 14.
How long have you been teaching?
“I’ve been teaching for eight years, in Belen and then four years at Desert View Elementary.”
Why did you chose teaching as a career?
“My mom was a teacher, and so I grew up where other kids went home. I stayed in the classroom hours after putting up the bulletin boards. I just love teaching children. Even in high school, when I was a cheerleader, I would teach the younger kids then. I just loved it. It just was in my soul to teach.”
What brings you the most joy in your work?
“What I most enjoy is watching my students take what they learn into the real world and use it problem solving.”
How do inspire your students to learn?
“By patience, love, guidance. Helping them to believe in themselves, letting them know that they are smart by giving them that love for learning through motivation, guidance, modeling — using all those strategies to help them be successful, so they’re confident they can do it on their own. As a teacher, I know where each of my children are, and so I don’t send them off and expect them to do it on their own the first day of kindergarten. Through the TESL (teaching English as a second language) and professional development the school has offered, I’ve learned how to model it, use pictures and guide them through until they are able to do it on their own, then knowing when to back off. Teaching them never to give up, that they can achieve anything they put their minds to.”

Martha Navarro
Katherine Gallegos Elementary School
Grade: Fifth grade
Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a minor in language arts and literacy from the University of New Mexico
Family: Husband, Ryan Navarro; and twin sons, Lukas and Eisley
How long have you been teaching?
Nine years; three years at Los Lunas Elementary, one year at Hope Christian School, five years at Katherine Gallegos Elementary
Why did you choose teaching as career?
“I really enjoy being around kids. I love the spirit of adventure that they have, the heart they have for everything new and exciting. I wanted to have a schedule that would be the same as kids’ schedules so that I could work in church and things with kids. Just all those things together made me want to become a teacher.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“When you see that a child is struggling, just having a really hard time in life, and you see a change in them for the better and you see a light goes on. Something just changes in them, whether it’s about their own education or in their family. It kind of just awakens what you’ve done with them. That brings me the most joy because you don’t see that very often. Not even every year do you see that. But every once in a while a kid comes along and they change right in front of your eyes and it’s wonderful. Just knowing that they’re going to be OK in life makes me happy.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“I feel like my biggest impact on the students I’ve had the opportunity to work with has been to awaken in them a love of reading. This year, and last year, too, we have delved into the world of Harry Potter — J.K. Rowling’s imaginary world she created. They have fallen in love with reading those books, which is great because they’re above fifth-grade level, and for most of these kids, it starts out to be really challenging, but they just love it. And for me, that’s the most exciting thing is to see them fall in love with reading. Our whole classroom is themed around the books.”

Stephen Neumann
Peralta Elementary School
Grade or subject taught: Special education, grades third to sixth
Education: Bachelor’s from Ohio State University in home economics; Columbia Community College, certified chef; master’s in special education and learning disabilities from the University of New Mexico
Family: Wife Barbara; and adult son, Kyle
How long have you been teaching?
“All total, 23 years.”
Why did you chose teaching as a career?
“After I became a certified chef, we ran a restaurant and the school partnered with us. The student would get their food service certificate and I really liked teaching them. I started working with special needs kids in the restaurant as well, and realized I needed a special education degree.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“When kids finally get something, especially if it’s something they have been struggling with. Just the look on their face when they can do it now.”
How do inspire your students to learn?
“Little reinforcements over time. They get down on themselves when they don’t remember or retain everything. But I can point out that they remembered this word or how to work a certain problem and show them that they are doing better. It’s all about small steps forward.”

Andrea Padilla
Central Elementary School
Grade or subject taught: Fourth- through sixth-grade bilingual education
Education: Associates degree in accounting and a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with a bilingual endorsement from the University of New Mexico, and has 24 hours toward her master’s.
Family: Born and raised in Tomé, her parents are the late Crisanta and Placido Padilla. She has 16 brothers and sisters, all but one attended college.
How long have you been teacher? “I taught 13 years here at Central. (She is retiring this year.) I’ve done my 25 years. I did 12 years at the University of New Mexico, I worked in the advisement area at the University College, which is basically the college for undecided majors and freshman and sophomore students. My last five years there, I was the manager of that unit.”
Why did you chose education as a career?
“Actually, it chose me. I wanted to teach early on in my life, and then I was told by my brothers and sisters that it probably wasn’t a good career choice, just because of the problems they had. I have quite a few teachers in the family, and I kind of stayed away from it. I got involved in advisement and loved it. Then, God kind of decided, ‘I want you teaching.’ Things happened in my life and I ended up becoming a teacher, and it turned out to be a good fit for me.”
What brings you the most joy in your work?
“Working with the students and seeing them succeed, not only in my classroom, but further on in their education. You can see on my bulletin board where I have pictures of some of my former students and what they’ve done. They’ve graduated from high school, they’ve moved on into college. I have quite a few of them that are attending university now. Seeing them progress like that has been probably the biggest joy I’ve had. The other joy is the staff here at Central. They are a great staff. They welcomed me when I first came. They’ve supported me, and they’ve kept me laughing for 13 years, which helps a lot in this line of work.”
How do inspire your students to learn?
“Basically, I tell them, based on myself and my family, ‘You know, we were poor, but we knew that education would be what got us out of it.’ So, I tell them it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, as long as you work hard, you will make it. I also let them know that I am bilingual. I was bilingual as a child, and you can become fluent in both languages and succeed in the world using either language or both, and that’s how I  inspire them. As long as they work hard, they can achieve any dream that they have. I think that I also inspire them in that I do a lot of artwork with my kids. For a lot of them, it has helped them see their potential artistically, which in turn helped them do better academically.”

Christina Sanchez
Rio Grande Elementary School
Grade or subject teaching: Special education teacher; teaches core academics and life skills, social and behavioral skills
Education: Bachelor’s degree in biology; master’s degree in elementary education
Family: Single
How long have you been teaching? Nine years
Why did you choose teaching as a career?
“I didn’t choose it. I kind of fell into it. I was trying to get into medical school.” Her mother, also a special education teacher, suggested she try teaching while waiting. “I did and I love it. It’s my calling.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“I really like the special education population. I work with kids with severe and profound disabilities, multiple disabilities, and, honestly, they teach me way more than I teach them … about being happy and loving life.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“I try to encourage them to do their best and empower them to be the best person they can be, and to be as independent as they possibly can.”

Mary Helen Tafoya
H.T. Jaramillo Community School
Grade: First grade
Education: 1982 graduate of Belen High School, nursing degree from TVI, business degree from the University of New Mexico, bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UNM, and master’s degree in elementary education (math, science and educational technology) from UNM in December 2012.
How long have you been teaching?
“I’ve been teaching since January 2009 here at H.T. Jaramillo.
Why did you choose teaching?
“When I started working after my business degree, I became pregnant with my second child and I decided to stay home with my two kids. I stayed home for 10 years, and within those 10 years, I would volunteer with the schools. I decided this is what I want to do; this is amazing. I have four children, and I volunteered at all their schools.
“I love working with the children when I was volunteering. This is what I knew what I wanted to do after being in the classroom for so many years as a volunteer.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“I love being part of being able to set the foundation and knowing the students have a safe place to make mistakes and have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and do better.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“Getting them involved — hands on. Getting them exploring and being part of learning. One example is through the scientific method. I had them do some (plant) cuttings and they actually got to cut it themselves, they put it in the water, they documented and got to see if it’s going to live and what’s going to happen. And when it does root, they get to get their hands in the soil and get to plant it. There’s so many different manipulatives with math that they get to explore and have fun.”

Rosaura Trujillo
Los Lunas Elementary School
Grade: Fourth- through sixth-grade special education
Education: Bachelor’s of science and education, special education and elementary education from the University of New Mexico
Family: Husband, Albert Trujillo; children, Andry, Elizabeth and Andrew; stepson, Diego
How long have you been teaching? Two years at Los Lunas Elementary
Why did you choose teaching?
“There were two things I wanted to be when I was growing up; one was a hairdresser and the other was a teacher. I knew I wasn’t going to be a hairdresser when I cut my sister’s hair and I gave her a mullet. After I had my kids, I wanted a job where I would have the same school schedule as my kids, so I was a special ed assistant in Texas. It was just exciting to me and I told myself I could do this.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“I get the most joy when I realize that a kid has an ‘aha’ moment, when the light turns on. I get so excited for them and they’re just so happy. When I see that they’re actually understanding … I’m so proud of them. Being able teach kids with learning disabilities is something I’ve always gotten joy from.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“I always try to relate it to real-life situations. I always try to tell my students why what they’re learning is important. I let them know that they’re capable of learning how to read. If I could just spark that interest and curiosity, I know they are capable of learning. I think if we can apply it real-life situations will help them in the long run.”

Keri VanVleet
Tomé Elementary
Grade or subject teaching: Bilingual first grade
Education: Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and elementary school, master’s degree in early childhood literacy and master’s degree in educational leadership and administration
Family: “I’m a single foster parent, and I currently have three foster children.”
How long have you been teaching? “I’ve been teaching in Los Lunas for five years and 15 years total.”
Why did you choose teaching as a career?
“I’m one of those people that always wanted to be a teacher even when I was little. I would play teacher.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“I enjoy working with the kids who need me most, the kids who most people see as struggling … and helping them finally get that light bulb, that ‘aha’ moment.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“I, honestly, believe every child can learn regardless of background or anything and I tell them that. I continue to tell them that they are smart and that they can do it and they start to believe me and then they achieve. I always get great kids every year.”

Chris Villella
Infinity High School
Grade or subject teaching: 10th- through 12th-grade math
Education: 2004 Belen High School graduate, bachelor’s in business administration from University of New Mexico; currently working on master’s degree in secondary education
Family: Wife, Courtney; children, Caleb, 6; Carson, 5; Connor, 2; Cooper, 7 months
How long have you been teaching? Three years
Why did you choose teaching as a career?
“Obviously, with my bachelor’s degree, I didn’t choose it initially. I actually wanted to be a teacher, but then I decided that I would rather go into something that I could make some money, so that’s why I went into business. I wasn’t happy doing that, so I applied and did some substitute work, and I really like it, so I pursued a teaching license. My mom, Margie Zamora, is actually a teacher here, too. She wanted me to be a teacher, and I told her no, but it ended up that way.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“Working with the kids. I just enjoy interacting with them. I enjoy giving them confidence in what they do. A lot of them the lack confidence, especially in math, to be successful in life. Sometimes they just need that extra boost of confidence and motivation. Once they realize they can do it, they take off.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“Actually, I try to get them to inspire themselves. I try and motivate them in being confident in themselves. Typically, that makes them inspire themselves. A lot of them have never thought they could be successful, especially with some of the students who come to our school. When they see that little bit of success, it’s very inspirational to them.”

Name: Courtney Villella
School: Belen Middle School
Grade or subject taught: Reading intervention
Education: Graduate of Belen High School; bachelor’s degree in elementary education from University of New Mexico with endorsements in reading and language arts; will complete master’s in reflective practices in teacher education from University of New Mexico this June.
Family: Married to Christopher Villella for nine years; they have four boys ages 6, 5, 2 and 2 months
How long have you been teaching? “I have been teaching for the last two years. Prior to that I student taught in the third grade at Gil Sanchez Elementary. I also worked as an educational assistant for two years at Desert View Elementary before that.
Why did you chose teaching as a career?
“I initially wanted to get a degree in business with the intent of opening a preschool dedicated to early childhood education; however, I decided halfway through obtaining my degree that my heart was more in teaching and less in business. That is when I decided to switch my major from business administration to education.
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“I get the most joy from knowing that I am doing exactly what I am meant to do: bring up and instruct the next generation. I feel that teaching and guiding the students I am entrusted with is my ministry and mission in life. This is affirmed every time my students experience success.”
How do inspire your students to learn?
“I inspire my students to learn by giving them opportunities to experience success. The intrinsic value of knowing they can cause positive outcomes in their education and in their lives gives my students the motivation they need to continually try their best and leads them to inquire about their other interests.”

Kristi Whistler
Los Lunas Middle School
Grade or subject teaching: Eighth-grade social studies
Education: Masters in language literacy and socio cultural studies
Family: Husband, Carlos Ruiz; 14-year-old son, Gabriel Gamboa.
How long have you been teaching? “This is my 19th year teaching.”
Why did you choose teaching as a career?
“I had received my bachelor’s degree in American studies and was working as the social director for a large retirement home and had a conversation with a 95-year-old resident who asked what I loved to do. In talking to her, I realized that I loved the experience of teaching kids something new. The next day I went to the university and enrolled to get my teaching certificate in elementary education.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“I love when my students suddenly ‘get’ a concept and when they realize that they are able to accomplish things that they previously thought were not possible. I love teaching middle school students because in some ways they are so grown up and yet they are still kids at heart. Another thing that brings me great joy about teaching is when former students return and tell me that I made a positive difference in their lives and without my high expectations and holding them accountable they didn’t think they would have been as successful in college or life.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“I always try to connect my history lessons to something that is relevant to my students’ own lives. I try to infuse humor into each day and I lead by example. My students see me working hard, know that I strive to do my best in everything I do and have high expectations for myself. This carries over to them. I am passionate about learning and have an insatiable curiosity. I encourage my students to take responsibility for their own learning. My students know that I value their education and their time in my classroom. Eventually, a large number of my students become inspired by this example in their own education and lives.”

Debbie Woodward
Gil Sanchez and La Promesa elementary schools
Grade or subject teaching: Kindergarten through sixth-grade art
Education: “Lobo nation! I have a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and masters of arts in education, plus 45 additional graduate hours in special education Level III. In 2008, I received UNM’s College of Education Distinguished Alumni Award/2008 Golden Apple finalist.”
Family: “The chalk dust is in our blood. Mr. Wauley Woodward teaches metals and woods at Laguna Acoma High School. Juanita Roberts, my hija, is a Spanish teacher at Cottonwood Classical Preparatory Charter School. Everyone’s a Lobo in our house.”
How long have you been teaching? Close to 30 years
Why did you choose teaching as a career?
“It’s the best job! I love children and working with families and the community.”
What brings you the most joy in teaching?
“Working within the community and learning about the cultures and traditions of the historical area of Rio Abajo. For example, the Valencia County News-Bulletin newspaper project and working with the Belen Library for Railroad Heritage Day. Utilizing the arts to improve literacy is a great motivator.”
How do you inspire your students to learn?
“No — they inspire me! It’s all reciprocal.”

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: Lynn Sanchez, a fifth-grade teacher at Dennis Chavez Elementary School, was named Belen Consolidated Schools Teacher for the 2012-13 school year. After 27 years of teaching, Sanchez retired on the last day of school, May 22, from educating students.

Belen Teacher of the Year: Lynn Sanchez

Dennis Chavez Elementary

Fifth Grade

By Abigail R. Ortiz
News-Bulletin Staff Writer

Twenty-seven hands shot up into the air from eager students wriggling around in their seats ready to answer what they loved about their fifth-grade teacher Lynn Sanchez at Dennis Chavez Elementary School.
“She’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” said student Laila Aragon. “She’s thoughtful and creative.”
Student Yajahira Morales added, “She makes everything easier by explaining it in a funny and silly way.”
After 27 years of teaching her neighborhood children in Los Chavez and maintaining a close connection with students, teachers and staff, Sanchez is retiring to knock out a summer to-do list “a mile long.”
One of which is to refinish her large, dark brown teacher’s desk sitting in her classroom with chips of paint cracked off edges and corners.
Sanchez will end her education career as the Belen Consolidated Schools District Teacher of the Year for 2012-13.
Students described Sanchez as jubilant, organized, cool, awesome, friendly and nice.
Once asked about activities Sanchez does in class to reinforce lessons, they rattled off a countless list of adventures she took them on in the name of education.
A song to remember all 50 states, vocabulary competitions where students recalled historical events or influential people from a date and field trips to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area and Popejoy Hall to watch “Mariachi Christmas.”
Fifth-grader Jesus Ruiz said a trip to the state capitol, where they were named honorary pages during the 2012 legislative session, was his favorite.
Student Santiago Tafoya said he also won’t forget how Sanchez let him perform his magic in front of the class, where he made one yellow ball disappear and four red balls appear.
The fifth-grade teacher began educating New Mexico students after graduating from the University of New Mexico in 1973 with a bachelor’s in home economics.
Shortly after, she joined a team of seven vocational home economics teachers at Valley High School in Albuquerque, where she remained for seven years.
Sanchez took a 17-year-long break from her teaching career to raise her three children, Joshua, Nolan and Katrina. She is married to Sen. Michael S. Sanchez.
When she returned to teaching, she went back to the University of New Mexico to receive a certification in elementary education for grades first through eighth, and a certification in consumer education for kindergarten through 12th grade.
She educated first graders at Gil Sanchez Elementary School for one semester in 1993 before transferring to Dennis Chavez Elementary, where she’s remained ever since.
Teaching was the logical choice for Sanchez in college. She loved children, enjoyed teaching others how to do something and liked getting excited about teaching, she said.
Her decision to teach was reinforced by the small, touching moments that come with teaching. For example, she blinks the lights to get her 27 students attention and the first time they quiet down.
“It’s the constant rewards that you receive daily from students, from parents,” Sanchez said.
In each lesson, she interjects a part of her personality and mothering techniques to teach core values, such as having a positive and encouraging attitude, while inspiring students as a good role model.
Through educating students, Sanchez teaches each class the Golden Rule of treating others the way you would want to be treated.
She includes excitement and humor through fun, memorable material her students can relate to when learning about a subject.
She aims to light a spark within children throughout each subject she teaches.
The 61-year-old even lit a spark within herself while teaching American history, which she fell in love with by reading historical novels with her students.
“I feel rewarded and accomplished when you hear students say they like the book or when they get excited to finish reading a book,” she said.
Each student’s success brings the most joy in teaching, but the most rewarding moment in teaching is when Sanchez sees a former student graduate from high school, who struggled in school.
“It’s so nice to see them come through the graduation line,” she said.
With each passing year, the group of students Sanchez has taught grows one class at a time, but Sanchez can still remember each student that has sat in her classroom tucked inside Dennis Chavez Elementary School.
“You just kind of keep track of them,” she said.
But the multicolored balloons strung to a pot full of yellow flowers in Sanchez’s class is an example of those that remember Sanchez’s impact on their lives.
The balloons and flowers were attached to a card with the words “Retired and Admired” from her former students.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Cristy Burt, a fourth-grade teacher at Sundance Elementary School, was named Los Lunas Schools Teacher of the Year for the 2012-13 school year. Burt’s husband, Rhett, is a teacher at Belen Middle School.

Los Lunas Teacher of the Year: Cristy Burt

Sundance Elementary

Fourth Grade

By Deborah Fox
News-Bulletin Staff Writer

Cristy Burt, the Los Lunas Schools Teacher of the Year, exudes energy and enthusiasm for teaching and learning.
By showing her students that she is still learning, that learning is a lifetime pursuit, she inspires them to want to learn.
“We have a lot of class discussions, and I really try to bring in their interests into the curriculum,” Burt said. “If they’re interested, then they’re going to want to learn … so I always try find a way to spark their interest in the topic.”
Burt started teaching at Katherine Gallegos Elementary, and then moved to Sundance Elementary School where she has been teaching fourth grade for the past five years.
The young educator’s exuberance is contagious. The inner tickings of her mind are constant, ever alert and eager to listen, analyze, solve and explain.
Her favorite subject is math, and she gets her students excited about the subject by carefully setting up their experience to build up their confidence.
“Kids come in so scared of math, and I feel like any kid can do math if they just have the right teaching and the patience,” Burt said. “I love seeing their faces when they get it, and feel like they’re good at it.”
Burt starts slow to give students opportunities to be successful, and when they make mistakes, she diffuses their anxiety, she said.
“Instead of saying, ‘No that’s wrong, that’s incorrect,’ (I say) ‘You’re just learning ways that didn’t work,’” said Burt. “And now we’re going to find ways that do work.”
Once they’ve built their confidence, they’ll try harder problems. They’ll want to do math, she said.
In the science teaching program she’s taking for her master’s degree, Burt’s learning how to develop science lessons and projects for the classroom.
“We got to do a rocket this year for the New Mexico Centennial,” said Burt. “The kids went through all the stuff from getting to build a rocket, we learned about how rockets fly … they really enjoyed learning about rocketry.”
The fourth-grade Sundance Elementary School teacher is pursuing her master’s degree from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and will complete it this summer.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from New Mexico State University in elementary education with a focus in math.
Burt’s husband, Rhett, is a teacher at Belen Middle School, and they have one daughter, McKaylee, 6, who attends Sundance Elementary.
Burt grew up in El Paso with six sisters and three brothers. Both her parents, Connie and Garry Woodruff, are educators in El Paso.
Growing up, she spent a lot of extra time in her parents’ classrooms observing and helping them before and after school. That’s when she fell in love with teaching.
“Even in high school, I loved helping my brothers and sisters with their homework,” Burt said. “I loved teaching them new things. It just seemed natural to go into teaching.”
She is an advocate for technology in the classroom, and her classroom is equipped with a smart board, similar to the old chalk board, but electronic. Each student has a handheld device to interact with the smart board. All students get to answer. They can click multiple choice answers or text answers.
It also enables the teacher to immediately see if the class is able to digest a concept.
Students can type in their own questions as well. Burt said they enjoy the smart clickers, which are similar in size to cell phones.
The fourth-grade teacher said her students like having technology in their hands.
“Kids love technology,” Burt said. “And they’re going to need to be savvy with it to get jobs for their professional lives. Every profession is using some form of technology.”
She and fellow teachers are working on a grant to get iPads for their classrooms.
“If they could get the iPads, the cool thing is, they can also answer off their iPads,” Burt said. “Then they can also create presentations and they can present from their iPad onto the smart board.”
The young teacher loves to see the eureka moments when students have struggled to comprehend a concept and then suddenly the light bulb goes off and they understand.
“Their face lights up, and they get really excited,” Burt said.
At the school district’s Teacher of the Year awards banquet, she learned she was selected for the honor.
“It was a super surprise,” she said. “I thought there was no way I would have a chance to get district Teacher of the Year. It was impossible.
“So when they said my name, I was just super, super surprised, and I’m not an emotional person, and I cried. I told my husband, ‘I can’t believe I cried.’ I was just so shocked.”


Creighton Edington

School of Dreams Academy Teacher of the Year: Creighton Edington

Math, Science and engineering

Education: Was in the scholars program at Pennsylvania State University and graduated with honors and a degree in secondary education, master’s degree in science from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.
Family: Has two grown daughters, Amanada and Allyson, who are attending college; wife and SODA language arts teacher, Kim Berlat.
How long have you been teaching?
“I started teaching 1996. I did take two years off to work in Africa with nonprofits dealing with educational issues, small business loans for women and dealing with fresh water supply. I helped build schools and get funding for schools. I also provided some teacher training.”
Why did you chose education as a career?
“To make the world a better place.”
What brings you the most joy in your work?
“When I get students to realize that they themselves can change the world.”
How do inspire your students to improve?
“I try to get them to see their own potential, and once they see that I think that ends up being almost a perpetual energy machine.”
What is one of your favorite classroom memories?
“I’ve had students that came from pretty bad situations and I saw them transform in my classroom from going down a path where you know it’s going to end up in a negative place, either dead, in jail, in gangs, or whatever. I’ve seen that transition or realization of the student going from that direction to going in a positive direction, realizing they have control over their future, that they can choose things for themselves. I think for a lot of them, the idea of being an engineer, or going to college, or even graduating high school for some of them, you might as well say you can be an astronaut on the moon. It seems to them like their chances are the same as being an astronaut walking on the moon, and once they realize that with some time and belief in themselves and some work into it they can accomplish getting a high school degree, getting a desirable job, going to college and not fall into gangs, not fall into some of those bad things that you see.”
What is your most touching student moment and experience?
“Several years ago, one of my high school students that I had asked about going to college. She started looking at online applications for college and what the requirements were. She was the first kid in her family who was even going to graduate from high school.
“You could tell it was the first time she ever thought about going to college and she said, ‘Your teachers tell you that you can go to college, like your mom tells you that you’re pretty even though you’re not, because it’s their job to tell you that. But I realize that I really can go to college, I really can do the things that you’ve talked to me about. I’ve done these (robotics) contests, and I’ve done well. I realize I have the potential to go to college and be successful there, and I’m not scared to go.’ That’s when I feel like I’ve done a good job.”