Beyond the Classroom

By Debby West

The power of a teacher transcends the classroom. I know this to be true because even today, in the midst of school closures and quick shifts to online learning, I find myself wondering, “What would Mr. D. do in this situation?”

Mr. Joe D’Andrea (AKA Mr. D) was my teacher decades ago when I was a 4th grader at El Descanso Elementary School in Camarillo. He inspired in me a passion for reading, made math and science engaging and fun, integrated the arts and storytelling into history lessons, and created a culture of thinking among his students. He created a classroom community focused on respect and learning for all. He also influenced my decision to follow in his footsteps and pursue education as a profession.

As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself—my curiosity, my passion for the sciences and the arts, my appreciation of the environment, my love of learning, my respect for family, friends, and community, —they come from how I was parented and taught. And none of them can be tested on a standardized test. Mr. D was a powerful teacher because he believed in us as learners and connected with us on a personal level. He was engaged in our learning process, challenged us, modeled expert learner strategies and adjusted his teaching to meet our needs. 

The El Descanso Elementary School site is now the site of University Preparation Charter School at CSUCI. The name may be different but the teachers have the same “Mr. D” qualities that inspired me to go into education. I visited the school at the end of February 2020 and witnessed a level of care, connection, and instruction between students and teachers much like what I remember and valued as a 4th grader in Mr. D’s class. Teachers aiming to create expert learners were engaged with students inspiring a passion for learning, and fostering a sense of confidence in their students as learners.

Like Mr. D, the teachers at University Preparation Charter School at CSUCI delivered more than instructional content. They emphasized learning for understanding and connected student learning to new situations, new challenges, and new problems. Ironically, these teachers are currently experiencing a new and challenging situation themselves.  As they adapt and adjust to online learning, teachers are modeling and highlighting, for their student, the transference of teacher learning to new challenges and situations. Teachers’ ability to apply what they already know about teaching, learning, and student needs must be applied to redesigned learning experiences in online platforms. Following University Preparation Charter School’s at CSUCI first week of online instruction, it is evident that this new challenge is being navigated by teachers with compassion, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Teachers are modeling for their students a resilience and ability to overcome challenges as they succeed together in creating high-quality, online experiences focused on learning. In so doing, they not only provide content lessons but the life lessons and inspiration for students to follow in their footsteps and in some cases, pursue education as a profession. I know this because the power of a teacher transcends the classroom.

Debby West attended schools in the Pleasant Valley and Oxnard Union High School Districts. She collaborates with educators throughout Ventura County. In the course of her career, she has held positions as an elementary, middle, and high school teacher, K-12 STE(A)M Specialist, school and district administrator, mentor, consultant, and grant director. She is currently serving as a project coordinator with VC STEM.  Joe D’Andrea is a retired classroom teacher, administrator and career education director living in Yuba County with his wife, Madeline. How he and Madeline met decades ago at El Descanso Elementary School and how their relationship evolved over time is another story.

If you have an inspiring story related to teaching and learning, please send it to Colleen Tabor at VC STEM aims to encourage and foster relationships within the STEM community of students, educators, businesses, and corporations.

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