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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 4th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 30 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 30

Nipomo educator wins SLO County Teacher of the Year

BY AMY ASMAN

Ann Elliott, a third grade teacher at Dorothea Lange Elementary School, never thought she’d win an award like San Luis Obispo County Teacher of the Year.

She distinctly remembers when her husband’s aunt won the award in her school district, more than 25 years ago.


The best around:
Ann Elliot, a third grade teacher at Dorothea Lange Elementary School, was officially recognized as San Luis Obispo County Teacher of the Year at the Lucia Mar Unified School District Board of Education meeting on Oct. 2. She will be honored at a countywide dinner on Oct. 29.
PHOTO BY AMY ASMAN

“And I thought, ‘Oh, that will never be me,’” Elliott told the Sun.

At the time, Elliott had just left her position at a private school in Los Angeles for a new job at a public school in Orange County—and she felt completely overwhelmed and alone.

At the private school, “there was a French teacher, a Spanish teacher, an art teacher, and a P.E. teacher,” Elliott recalled. A mentor was helping her learn the ropes, and she had 17 students in her classroom.

Unfortunately, the job didn’t pay enough for Elliott to live on, so she transferred to a public school—and lost her support system in the process.

“It was just a shock and a half,” she said. Plus, the culture of the school was very different than the one in L.A.

“There were homework-eating sheep,” she said. “It was a lifestyle I was completely unfamiliar with.”

She ultimately moved to the Central Coast, first teaching at Nipomo Elementary. She transferred to Dorothea Lange when it opened seven years ago. Elliott described her professional journey as a teacher in an essay she wrote to be considered for SLO County’s Teacher of the Year Award. Everyone who won teacher of the year at his or her individual district was asked to submit an essay to the county for consideration.

“I wrote about how [teaching] went from something I desperately wanted out of to the only thing I wanted to do,” she said.

She credits the transformation to the support she received from her fellow teachers and administrators in the workplace, at meetings, and at conferences. She said she began to thrive as a teacher when the school became a safe environment where she could go to people and ask for help.

That system of support, she said, is a growing trend she’s noticed in her district and school districts across the state.

“When a family sends their child to school, the entire campus—everyone on it, including the bus driver—is there to support the child,” she said. “I want people to know how dedicated the teachers are who work with their kids.”

Obviously, Elliott’s supervisors and peers feel the same way about her.

“Ann is a great listener and a team player, and she’s a great teacher. That combination is really special to Ann,” said Debbie Schimandle, principal of Dorothea Lange Elementary School. “She really cares about her students, and she takes an interest in their success. The lessons she plans are highly motivating ... so [the kids] enjoy what they’re learning.”

When the Sun visited Elliott’s classroom, the students were working on a measurement activity. Then they transitioned to an art project in which they’d draw a scarecrow.

“You can turn almost any lesson into art,” Elliott later explained. “I think it helps them retain [the lesson] better—that and food.”

Another motivator, she said, is developing personal relationships with her students.

“I like to really know the kids and not just see them as a number or data from a test, because that’s not what they are,” she said. “Once the kids know I care about them, they’ll work their little hearts out for me.”