Julia Otken, a 4th grade teacher at Mims Elementary School (Mission CISD) was named Regional Elementary Teacher of the Year. Andrea Joy Garza, a World History teacher at United South High School (United ISD) was named Secondary Teacher of the Year. Both were selected from an esteemed group of educators, nominated by their own school districts, to represent the region in the statewide Teacher of the Year program. In all, 46 District Teachers of the Year, representing 24 school districts/charter schools were honored for their excellence in the classroom.
Nominees submitted an application consisting of essay questions asking nominees to describe a lesson or unit that defines them as a teacher, describe a project or initiative that has contributed to the improvement of overall school culture, an explanation of how they ensure that education transcends the classroom, what they consider to be a major public education issue, and finally, as a spokesperson for teachers and students what is their message to t profession and to the public. A committee comprised of representatives from various teacher and administrator groups evaluated the essay applications.
Julia Otken has spent her 12-year career at Mission CISD where she has served as a 2nd grade teacher, as well as a testing and academic strategist. She feels the experiences from her previous positions have equipped her to identify student opportunities, utilize detailed analysis to meet student academic needs, develop varied instructional delivery methods, and build her capacity to address all students’ needs. In her current position as a teacher in a gifted and talented classroom, Otken strives to challenge her students, and through various techniques aims to enrich student learning and student engagement as she teaches such concepts as equations, coding, teamwork, engineering, and problem solving. To ensure that her students grasp a concept, Otken utilizes all her learned teaching tools, including what she calls “her Vanna White method” to involve her kinesthetic learners, to engage her students in learning.
In the same way that she uses various teaching strategies to reach all students, Otken realizes the value of the “vast network of software, products, and websites” as resources for learning. “We are privileged to be educators during a period of flourishing applications because of the broad range of avenues available that lend themselves to the application of proven, effective approaches in instruction utilizing technological resources.”
Each district teacher of the year nominee received a commemorative gold apple bell for their achievement. Dr. Cornelio Gonzalez, Region One ESC Executive Director, awarded each regional teacher of the year with a Star Polisher Award, a statue of four children, hands held high, holding a star. Melissa Aguero Ramirez, Region One Human Resources Administrator read a poem, which accompanied the award, “You see, I’m a teacher, an educator, a mentor. The stars are the children in my class, my job is to take them in, whatever shape they come, and shine and buff them and then send them out to take their places as bright twinkling beacons in the sky.”
Each Regional Teacher of the Year recipient also received a personalized Teacher of the Year ring from Jostens, The Class Ring Company. This is the eighth year that Jostens, The Class Ring Company has served as a sponsor of the Region One Teacher of the Year celebration.
Each of the state’s twenty regional education service centers submit their regional elementary and secondary teachers of the year for the Texas Teacher of the Year award; Region One ESC will nominate Otken and Garza for the Texas Teacher of the Year award. Semi-finalist judging will take place at the Texas Association of School Administrators headquarters in Austin, Texas to determine the six Texas Teacher of the Year finalists. The Texas Elementary and Texas Secondary Teachers of the Year will be announced on September 14 at the Texas Teacher of the Year Awards Ceremony in Austin, Texas.
Pictured from left, Dr. Manuel Gomez, Jr., Region One Board Member; Dr. Eduardo Cancino, Deputy Director, Instructional, School Improvement, and College Readiness Support; Julia Otken, Region One Elementary Teacher of the Year, Mims Elementary School, Mission CISD; Dr. Ricardo Lopez, Mission CISD Superintendent; Yvonne Zamora, Mims Elementary School Principal; Dr. Cornelio Gonzalez, Region One Executive Director; and Ricardo Gutierrez, Region One Vice-Chairperson.