2017 OUTSTANDING TEACHER OF AMERICA
AP Calculus and Engineering Teacher
Carbrillo High School
Long Beach, California
Kenneth grew up in Lakewood, California where he was raised by a single mother who emigrated from Germany with Ken’s father who was in the US Army. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last and soon after his 5th birthday, his mother moved Ken and his older sister to California. As a single parent with no US education, Ken’s mother worked two, low paying jobs and she struggled to put food on the table for her children.. Without any support from their father, Kenneth and his sister had to learn to do a lot on their own. As a young child Kenneth did not know why his Father was not around: he only knew he was not around and he grew to be very angry about it. As a result, Ken often found himself getting into trouble in school. In the fifth grade, his teacher pulled him aside and told him, "You will never become anything! You are worthless and your Mom will live a happier life if you were gone." These were the words that changed his life. These words were followed with Kenneth's response – a slap to her face.
From that point forward, every administrator, teacher and counselor tried to scare Ken into making better choices and stop making life miserable for his mother. No one bothered to take the time to talk to him and show him how his behavior and his actions were affecting his mom and sister. Ken blamed everyone else until he entered the 8th grade and was fortunate to have two teachers who took the time to work with him and very calmly show him that he had choices in life and his decisions had consequences. They talked with him, listened closely to him and treated him like he really mattered. They each saw his potential and praised him when he began to do little things that showed progress in his attitude and school work. These two teachers allowed Kenneth to make mistakes and taught him to learn from his mistakes.
Both of these caring teachers were math teachers. It was in the 8th grade, with the guidance of these two teachers, Kenneth’s attitude began to change. However, when he reached his freshman year, two of his new teachers asked that he be switched to another teacher because they did not want to deal with him. Kenneth thought about his middle school teachers and realized he had to be different. The one thing Kenneth could do was run. One day, his PE Teacher and the head Track Coach asked him a question no one had ever asked. He asked, "Who are you, Kenny and what do you want?" It took Kenneth a long time to find the answer to these two very complex questions. Over the course of his four years of high school he saw many of his friends make choices that changed their life in very bad ways. Ken focused on sports, often training until they told him to get off the campus so they can close up.
H Since that day, Kenneth has come to realize the answers to these questions change constantly and have guided his life. Kenneth turned his life around. He became an accomplished athlete and student and, following his high school graduation, he attended Long Beach State University where he majored in Mathematics, earned both his Bachelors and Master’s Degrees in Mathematics, and received his teaching credential. Kenneth went immediately to Cabrillo High School where he has been teaching AP Calculus, Engineering since 1998 and spent nine years as the Math Department Chair. Kenneth also helped to start the Cabrillo Engineering and Design Pathway at Cabrillo.
Kenneth sees himself in all of his students at Cabrillo High School. Many come from immigrant families whose parents do not speak English. He is devoted to giving his students opportunities and experiences that can change their life and open their eyes to the world around them. Kenneth prominently posts the questions asked of him by his track coach on his classroom wall and asks his students to find their answers to these questions every day of their life. He feels that if they can simply think of these questions and the family that supports them, the choices they make in their lives will be much easier to make and will enhance the quality of their lives. Their families and loved ones will be proud of them but, more importantly, they will be proud of their accomplishments and become more confident to find a better future.