2006 OUTSTANDING TEACHER OF AMERICA
Social Science Teacher, North Salinas High School, Salinas, California
Mr. Torrance has been teaching Social Sciences at North Salinas High School for over 19 years following two years teaching in Yuba City. He received his degree from UC Davis and has taken additional courses as a Summer Fellow at Princeton University.
North Salinas High School has an enrollment of over 2000 students in grades 9 – 12, with a majority of students (68%) from Hispanic descent and 15% Caucasian. Over 27% are English Language learners and 43% of the students on the free lunch program.
Mr. Torrance had a very high degree of expectations for students. While his students say they frequently experience teachers and others who tell them they can’t achieve beyond what their parents have achieved, Mr. Torrance “tells us we can achieve anything we wish, if we are willing to do the work.” Students and teachers alike describe Mr. Torrance as one who is “passionate” about History, is “animated” in his presentation of his subject matter and is able to convey that excitement and love of his subject to his students.
Mr. Torrance takes special time to prepare students for the rigors of college. One former student, Antonio Martinez said, “…what really sets Mr. Torrance apart is that I have never seen a teacher more in love with his subject than Mr. Torrance….every class with Mr. Torrance was like an ‘event’ where we were swept up by his enthusiasm. He took his own time to teach SAT classes for us and to prepare us so we could do well on tests and have a better chance to get into better colleges and/or universities.”
In addition to getting the most out of students in his classroom, Mr. Torrance has the same expectations for his high school athletes. He has coached several different sports at North Salinas high school and in his “spare time” coaches teams for his church and other community athletic programs. He currently coaches the North Salinas High School freshman football and basketball teams.
Mr. Torrance’s high level of energy, his deep knowledge and understanding of his subject and the excitement with which he imparts that knowledge is contagious and students are “clamoring to get into his classes.” Students say he is always finding ways to challenges them and pushes them to find ways to do better.
Antonio Martinez, one of the students who nominated Mr. Torrance, exemplifies Mr. Torrance’s dedication to helping students succeed and overcome great odds. Antonio did not think he would ever be able to attend college. His family had no financial resources. He did not believe he was “smart enough” and his parents had only seven years of education between the two of them. They did not speak English and, therefore, he had no academic assistance or support at home.
Antonio says “It was Mr. Torrance who took the time to help me. He met with me before and after school and at lunch time to tutor me. He taught me that I was smart enough and encouraged me to apply and to attend UC Berkeley. I am the oldest in my family and the first to ever attend college. Now my brothers and sisters are more interested in school and are getting good grades. And, it is all because of Mr. Torrance. I cannot ever thank him enough.”
Antonio’s goal is to finish college and become a civil engineer and to raise the socio-economic status of his family.
Lissa Prudencio also credits Mr. Torrance for making a difference in her life. Lissa took classes from Mr. Torrance for four years and, like Antonio, because of Mr. Torrance she applied and was accepted to UCLA. She is majoring in Communications with a minor in Education. Lissa says, “Not many students from North Salinas High School go on to college. However, Mr. Torrance’s students do. He makes a point of seeing that it happens.”
Lissa is Filipino and was fortunate to have the support of her parents for pursuing her education. However, she received very little support from teachers at school. She said, “Unlike other teachers, Mr. Torrance took an interest and really pushed me. He believed in me and encouraged me. He pushed me to take Advanced Placement classes and stressed that my goal should be to not simply graduate from high school, but to go on to college. He motivated me like no other teacher and helped me make good decisions about the courses I took and which colleges might work best for me. And, now that I am in college, I find that I am very well prepared for the rigors of college classes and only because of the demands of Mr. Torrance’s classes.”
This statement was echoed by several past students who said they were very lucky to have had Mr. Torrance as their high school teacher because they were so well prepared for their college work “no matter how difficult the classes were.”
The Assistance Principal of North Salinas High School summarized Mr. Torrance by saying, “The thing about Larry is that his passion shines through…he is one who solidly goes through every day and is consistent with his students and athletes who always know what is expected of them…His intentions are so very authentic and he challenges both himself and his students…He follows his own conviction to do the right thing and what is always in the best interest of his students. He teaches them to be the best they can be and holds them accountable….he communicates in a way that is respectful of students and treats them in the way the he would like them to grow up to treat their own kids. He is an exceptional person.”
Outside of school, Mr. Torrance has been the Children’s Pastor at his church for over 18 years, where he also coaches both church and community sports teams. He has been recognized by the community and by his students for his leadership and teaching, including several awards through the local Rotary and Lions Clubs and was recently selected as the top Sunday School Teacher in Northern California, and Nevada.