2018 OUTSTANDING TEACHER OF AMERICA
North High School
When Natalie was in high school in Bakersfield, California, she was asked by the Agriculture teacher to join FFA and become involved in the Agriculture Program. At first, she declined. However, the teacher was persistent and ultimately was able to persuade her to become involved. Natalie ended up attending Fresno State to major in Agriculture Science and continued on to Chico State to earn her Masters Degree and her teaching credential. When she decided she wanted to be a teacher who would have the same effect on future students as her high school Ag teacher had on her.
Natalie began teaching at North High School in Bakersfield, California with an emergency credential. Because Natalie’s degree was in biological science, she was hired primarily to teach college prep Biology, general Biology and one section of Agriculture Biology. At the time, the Science department did not consider Agriculture as a Science and did not want that subject as part of the Science department. So, as an early career teacher, Natalie was the ‘odd man out.’
Despite being on the outside, Natalie stuck it out, spent her summers attending National Future Farmers of America programs and eventually ended up as the Science Department Chair. Since then, Natalie has grown the Ag program from just two small classes each semester, to over 400 students taking classes that now include courses that meet both college prep and career prep requirements. Because of the growth over the past 8 years, the department has grown from one teacher to 3 full time AG teachers, with enough future growth expected that will soon require a fourth full time Ag teacher.
Natalie strongly believes that a positive, safe and predictable classroom environment is the key to learning. At the beginning of every school year, Natalie makes certain all of her students clearly understand her expectations about being on time, turning in the work when expected, treating others with respect and daily, active participation. To Natalie, it is critical that her students know she is interested in them, not only as students, but also as individuals. She learned early in her career that students respond best when she develops a relationship with them. Within a week of the opening of school each year, she learns every student’s name and one or two things that is of interest to them. She also requires every student in each class to also know the names of every student in class. She creates several different types of activities that help them (and her) learn as much about one another as possible. She strongly believes that by creating an accepting, warm and open environment, teacher and students, alike, will learn to respect and trust one another and speak freely without fear of judgment from others.
Natalie believes in structure and predictability in her classroom. She believes there must be a very clear purpose to every classroom activity. She tells her students she has the same high expectations for them as she has for herself. She firmly believes that if her students do a poor job on their assignments, it is because she has not done a good job in her teaching.
Natalie further believes that the real purpose of what she teaches her students is to prepare them well for whatever path they choose to take after high school. If it is college they wish to pursue, she wants them to have experienced the academic rigors they will face in college. She wants them to fully comprehend the concepts that will form a foundation for them as they take the next step in advanced courses and will not feel lost when faced with material they have never experienced before. If they choose not to go to college, she wants her students to have experienced the same academic rigors and know they were able to succeed in handling the challenges she gave them. She sees the importance of her students having a sense of responsibility and a commitment to others. She wants them to understand the value of hard work and also some of the mundane expectations of the real world. Knowing they are capable of handling the academic side gives them added confidence in whatever they choose to do.
Natalie was the only person in her family to go to college. She was pushed beyond what she thought she was capable of doing by her Ag teacher. She shares with her students that because of what that teacher required of her, she found her path and her passion. She wants her students to find their paths, with the clear understanding they will expect to face a variety of challenges but also that they are capable of finding that special “something” they want to pursue so badly that they will work hard to get it.
Natalie uses the following quote as her guide to teaching:
‘Approach every kid, every day, like they have a tent over their head.’
Natalie makes a point to be inside that tent to create a very supportive environment, where every student can thrive, in the here and now and well into their futures. Every day she dedicates herself to being supportive and understanding and to do her very best to move students forward on a path toward success.