Stephanie Farquhar-Ota

 
 

2010 Outstanding Teacher of America

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Stephanie Farquhar-Ota

English and Avid Teacher, Oceanside High School, Oceanside, California

Stephanie was raised and attended school in Los Alamitos, California. Throughout her young life she had one goal: to be the first in her family to go to college. With little parental guidance or school direction, Stephanie believed she only had to take lab science courses, the SAT, and maintain her grades in order to reach her goal. However, when meeting with her high school counselor at the beginning of her senior year to discuss her college plans, she was shocked when her counselor told her, “You did not take the correct classes or tests required by Private and UC schools so you are only eligible for Cal State Universities.”

After graduating from Los Alamitos High School, Stephanie attended CSU Long Beach for two years before transferring to CSU San Marcos located in North San Diego County. After two years as a business major, Stephanie decided to follow her passion for reading and changed her major to Literature and Writing to focus on learning about a subject she truly loved.

Stephanie first realized she was meant to be a teacher when she observed a high school English class and found it very difficult to simply sit and observe the class. She found herself on the edge of her seat, eager to jump in to help the students. After graduating from CSUSM, with her Bachelor’s degree in Literature and Writing, Stephanie continued on to complete the Teacher’s Credential Program at CSU San Marcos.

Stephanie’s student teaching experiences guided her to where she is today. She had student teaching assignments at two very different schools: San Dieguito Academy, located in a predominately white, upper class area; and, El Camino High School, located in a multicultural and lower socioeconomic area. Although she appreciated the teaching philosophies and college bound students of San Dieguito Academy who would probably learn in spite of her, she felt strongly she could make a significant difference teaching in the more diverse community of Oceanside.

She began her career teaching Reading Improvement and English Language Development IV at Oceanside High School in the Fall of 2001. Following her first year at OHS, Stephanie was asked to teach English Learners and AVID. When she attended her first training at the AVID Summer Institute, she knew she had finally found her true calling. Remembering her personal experience with her high school counselor shortly before her high school graduation, Stephanie knew she would now have the opportunity to open doors for students by educating them about college and create life-long bonds with many of her students – something that was not done for her.

With the flexibility of the AVID curriculum, Stephanie now has the ability to address her students’ specific needs, make certain they take the appropriate courses, help them with college and scholarship applications, and teach them practical life skills related to checking accounts, credit cards and the dangers of debt. As an AVID teacher, she is a teacher, counselor, and often a mother to her students.

In 2009, Stephanie broadened her teaching experience by teaching English 9 and English 11. She said, “I truly enjoy teaching English because I am able to share my passion for literature with my students and inspire them to become lifelong readers, thinkers and learners. I enjoy being a part of the English department, participating in Professional Learning Community meetings and learning from my colleagues, which truly helps my professional development. In addition, I am able to share with my colleagues some of my techniques that I find useful and productive.

“However, the most rewarding aspect of being a teacher is being able to make a difference in the lives of my students. I strive to get to know each and every one of my students, whether they are in my AVID or my English classes. I am constantly aware of the fact that many of my students face numerous obstacles every day. I am humbled by the strength they exhibit as they are faced with gangs, teen pregnancy, loss of family members, fear of being deported because they do not have documentation, poverty, suicidal thoughts, and, of course, the normal adolescent development struggles every child goes through during this time of their lives.

“I need them to know and believe that I respect them personally and I truly care for each of them. I want them to know I see the best in each of them and I believe they are capable, significant and important people who have a great deal to contribute. To do that, I create situations daily where I demonstrate for them how I recognize and appreciate their capabilities and offer them classroom experiences where they are able to demonstrate their learning and experience earned success.

“I do very simple things, but they are done with a purpose. For example, I stand at the door outside my classroom each day to greet my students and ask them how they are or just smile and say their name when I say hello. This provides an opportunity for me to determine their mood. I am able to see if they are sad or upset and I can make mental notes to set aside time to speak with them about what might be going on. When I am able to take time to spend with them individually, I try to make them feel special. I give them something they seldom get at home. Because trust is an issue with many of them, I make certain, if I tell them I will do something, I do it. They need consistently, honesty and predictability in their lives and I try to provide that for them. I know they believe I will help them get whatever they need. They also know I will be there to help them reach whatever dreams they may have, as long as they, too, put forth the effort. They all know I always expect the best work possible from them with each and every assignment.

“My goal is to teach them not only the academics aspects of critical thinking, proper grammar and clear writing skills, but also how to be responsible human beings with good interpersonal, social and communication skills. I accomplish this by assigning a lot of project work, where they work in pairs or teams and each person is responsible to the others on their team to complete their part of the assignment. I require a great deal of personal writing and essays about the challenges they face and have had to overcome. I am frequently moved to tears when I read their essays about how they have handled so many overwhelming obstacles. They inspire me with their strength and their resilience.

“I also ask all of my students to maintain a portfolio of all their writings. At the end of each year, they must write an essay in which they review the struggles they faced throughout the year in their classes, assignments, or content mastery, as well as any personal challenges they may have faced. All of this is in preparation for when they begin applying to colleges and universities and when they have to write personal essays for scholarships.

“Because many of my students don’t feel most of their teachers believed they were academically capable to meet the requirements for admission to four year colleges, I take great pleasure in sending notes to all of their teachers about where the students were accepted to college and then, finally, where they decide to attend. I also send notes regarding the number of scholarships they receive. Last year a majority of our graduates went on to four year colleges and universities. In a school where over 60% of the students are living in poverty and have to rely on our school to provide their basic nutrition, and where the reputation of the school is quite negative, these are great accomplishments for our students. This has all helped to change the attitude of many of our teachers about what they can expect from their students. It appears that many of the teachers are stepping up the level of their expectations and it is beginning to show in our improving test scores as they continue to creep up each year. These kids want to learn and it is important that ALL of their teachers recognize and understand their students have the capacity to do well. I feel fortunate to be able to support my students through these challenges and help them keep their dreams alive. More importantly, I feel I am truly making a difference in the lives of my students. I go home each day feeling great about what I and (most of) my colleagues are doing. It is all about making a difference in the lives and futures of our students. And,what I learn from my students gives me the strength to continue to do my very best for them on a daily basis.”