Both teachers — from the Mountain View Whisman School District and the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District — were recognized by colleagues for going the extra mile and pushing their students to get interested in learning, with the aim of creating positive academic patterns and brighter futures. Nguyen and Wemmer will receive their awards at a ceremony for winning teachers from each of the county's school districts on Sept. 27.
When Nguyen, a first-grade teacher, heard she would be getting the award she said she was first surprised, then a bit sheepish.
"I'm just doing my job," she said, noting that she didn't feel more deserving than any of her colleagues. "We're all just teaching. We're doing what's best for kids, and that's our job."
But according to Mountain View Whisman Superintendent Craig Goldman, Nguyen certainly deserves the honor.
"I know from both observation and reputation that she is a highly dedicated professional," Goldman said. "She spends many hours preparing her lessons and reviewing her students' work in order to be responsive to their needs."
During those many hours of preparation, which Nguyen insists are also kept up by her fellow Bubb teachers, she works on lesson plans that emphasize the importance of strong written communication.
"If you want to participate in our democratic society, you have to be able to express yourself," she explains of her focus on strengthening her students' reading and writing skills. "It gives you chances in life."
Goldman also said that Nguyen was one of the first to volunteer to learn and help teach the district's new Explicit Direct Instruction method of teaching. She said she liked how "equitable" the instructional program seemed and was intrigued by the EDI strategies for connecting with the kids and making sure all students were learning.
"She's been an incredible leader both at Bubb and throughout the district in supporting teachers in Explicit Direct Instruction implementation," Goldman said, adding that in the 2012-13 school year, Nguyen is going to be one of four teachers on special assignment, helping get all of the district's teachers up to speed on EDI.
Los Altos High School teacher Christa Wemmer is known around school for her efforts to engage the most difficult students. Her willingness to consistently work with these students on literacy, study skills, and focusing ability has led the Santa Clara County Office of Education to declare her, among others, Teacher of the Year.
Wemmer's determination, developed over 15 years of teaching, is illustrated by her effort to place aid for struggling students directly into the Los Altos High School curriculum. Four years ago, Wemmer created two new courses with the help of Anna Battle, a teaching partner. A set of two courses — ninth grade history/world studies and high school study skills, complement each other. Students who enroll in world studies and exhibit a need for improved literacy and study skills may also in roll in the complementary study skills class. Wemmer teaches both of these courses, and her fellow teachers praise her ability to energize students of all kinds.
"One of the teachers I work with nominated me for making history interesting for kids, using the world studies content as a vehicle for teaching literacy," Wemmer says.
Wemmer's passion for improving the performance of struggling students comes from her belief in the importance of ninth grade as a jump-start year leading into the rest of high school. She often stays after school to tutor students who need help with the material.
"One of the biggest challenges is getting kids to do homework. You're working with young students and ninth grade is a really critical age for kids to buy into school," Wemmer says. "Young people don't always make the best decisions, but we love the kids."
Los Altos High School principal Wynne Satterwhite recognizes Wemmer's ability to connect with her students and motivate them to pursue their studies.
"Christa has been able and willing to take on the most difficult students, in terms of kids that often come to our high school without knowledge of how to be a student," Satterwhite says. "Christa is a wonderful teacher, she really cares about her kids, and she understands how to help students."