2010 Outstanding Teacher of America
Alicia Taylor grew up in Arvada Colorado, just west of Denver where she attended high school and found music to be her major interest. She began playing the piano at the age of eight and later added the drums. As a high school student, Alicia was a member of the marching, jazz and concert bands. Because of her love of music, along with the strong encouragement of her high school music teacher, she applied and was accepted to Music Conservatory at The University of Pacific, in Stockton California. Alicia intended to make Music her major. However, she soon switched her major to math because it was a subject that had always been easy for her and it was something she truly enjoyed. Alicia graduated with a B.S. in Mathematics from the University of Pacific before returning to earn a single subject teaching credential in mathematics. Alicia has since earned her M.S. in Mathematics and is currently working on her M.S. in Education Administration.
Alicia has been teaching at Edison High School since 1994 and has taught all levels of mathematics from California High School Exit Exam preparation classes to AP Calculus and AP Statistics. She has been the head of the math department since 1999 and during the 2009-2010 school-year she was the lead teacher for the Academy of Finance and Information Technology, a small learning community at Edison.
In addition to her teaching duties, Alicia works with several student organizations as the co-advisor for the Nation Honor Society (NHS), California Scholastic Federation (CSF), Academic Decathlon, and Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA). When she is not teaching, she to relaxes at home, reading and listening to music. She is also a great sports fan.
When Alicia plans for each new school year, she says, “From the very first day students enter my classes, I want them to know I will always be very straight forward with them. I set the bar high and tell them I will expect them ALL to work extremely hard. I also let them know I will do everything I can to help them meet my expectations. I also have all of the students complete an “interest” sheet, which allows me to learn a little more about who they are and what they have to deal with at home. I want them to know they have a comfortable and safe place to come every day. Our school is in a rather rough neighborhood and many of my students are very poor and don’t often have quiet or safe places to study without interruption.
“I do everything I can to create a learning environment where students do not feel judged and where it is safe for them to answer questions and speak out in class. My classes are very culturally diverse and it is important for them to learn about each other’s cultures. Therefore, we do a lot of group work where they have to interact and a lot of project based work where each student is responsible for portions of the project. They learn they have to trust one another and that they are personally responsible to be a contributing member of a team. This is particularly true in the MESA program where student teams have to build things and make them function. There is nothing better to see their joy when they complete a project or a problem successfully and know that each of them played a significant role in making it work correctly.
“I often have kids tell me other teachers don’t believe they are capable of doing hard work and learning complicated concepts. They seem surprised when I tell them they can do whatever they put their mind to and they even more surprised when they begin to rise to the level of my expectations and are successful. My students know they honestly earn the grades I give them – I will never give a grade to a student he/she doesn’t deserve. The beauty of this is that the more they see they can do it, the more they want to do and accept more challenges.
“Over the years, I seem to have found ways to simplify my explanations of complicated concepts. More importantly, I have learned the need to teach in a variety of ways in order meet the variety of needs of my students and how they each learn. It is a challenge to teach differently day to day, but I believe it is my responsibility to be sure my students are learning what I am teaching. It does no good to stand up and lecture and do problems on the board without knowing they truly understand what I want them to learn. If they don’t get it the first time, I will re-teach it a different way until I know they understand the concept. It adds to the stress and the amount of work, but it is worth it because the students realize I will be there for them to help them when they are not clear on the concepts. And, when they know I am not going to give up on them, I find they don’t give up so easily either. I end up doing a lot of one on one work to get them over the humps.
“I absolutely love what I do. I enjoy seeing these young people come out of their shells and find out they truly can break the cycle of poverty they have experienced. It is so incredibly rewarding to see them embrace their new opportunities and see how proud their families are for their successes, no matter how small. I try to bring back as many of my former students as possible to speak to my current students – I use them as role models and they are able to further motivate my students and offer them additional resources that will help them be successful in college.
“I have to say I am proud of what our students are able to accomplish given their backgrounds and family histories. They are very resilient and I hope I give them something that makes their futures just a bit brighter.”