2019 OUTSTANDING TEACHER OF AMERICA
AP Language Teacher
Valley Center High School
Valley Center, California
Crystal Rienick grew up in San Diego, California. Inspired by the passion, energy and commitment to students by both her fourth and a fifth grade teachers, Crystal decided early in her life that she wanted to become a teacher. She clearly remembers how each of these teachers had a considerable passion about teaching and convinced her and her fellow students that learning could be a lot of fun. She saw how the use of humor could make a classroom stimulating. She stimulated by creative, vibrant bulletin boards to display student work. She experienced how moving around the classroom and working in small groups, helped her engage in classroom activities and enjoy being at school. Crystal’s former teachers gave her her first taste of how reading could bring joy to her world and how literature could transport her to another place and time where she could escape, explore and learn about other people and cultures. She learned how to get lost in literature.
When she reached high school, Crystal had a third exceptional teacher who inspired and motivated her to think about college for the first time in her life. Because of limited resources, Crystal first attended community college. Because she was the first in her family to attend college, she did not have any role models or anyone who knew how to direct her through the college application process. Consequently, because she did not know any better, Crystal signed up only for classes that sounded interesting, rather than the general education courses required to transfer to a four year university. This decision resulted in her spending more time than necessary at the community college.
Eventually, Crystal transferred to San Diego State and chose to major in English. To help pay for her college tuition, Crystal secured a job as a Teacher’s Assistant at local elementary school in San Diego, which she kept through all her years at San Diego State. During the summer, she worked as the janitor, doing the deep cleaning of the campus to prepare the campus and classrooms for the fall. These experiences gave her a very unique perspective of what goes on and what is needed in a school. She saw teachers in the classroom dealing with every aspect of education. She learned how important it is to listen to children, regardless of how old they were. She saw how different teachers handled a variety of situations and noticed that the best teachers, the ones who did not have classroom management problems, were the ones who were the most prepared and who took time to get to know their students in order to determine how they learned best. She saw students from all types of families and cultures and observed how different teachers handled those who were motivated as well as those who were reluctant to do the work, and those who were recalcitrant and who did not behave as expected. She learned how critical the role of support staff of a school plays to make a school run well. And, she learned how important it is to take the time to recognize them for the work they do for the teachers.
Crystal's years or experience as an aide and janitor provided her with experiences that were more relevant to her teacher preparation than her education coursework. The practical experiences with the students taught her the importance of building strong relationships with students and staff alike. It taught her the importance of getting to know students and listening to them to learn about their interests and hopes and what they might need for them to learn best. She learned how the most effective teachers seemed to know intuitively how to adapt lessons to the interests of the students. Crystal learned the importance of daily reflections on her practice to be sure she achieved what she intended each day. She learned the importance of understanding how the janitors and secretaries are the backbone of the school. Consequently, she never leaves her classroom without picking up the papers and cleaning her room. She makes every effort to acknowledge all support staff with a smile or greeting and demonstrate in small ways how grateful she is for their support.
Prior to receiving her preliminary teaching credential, Crystal applied for an emergency credential and was hired to teach at a middle school in Valley Center, California, where she taught 7th and 8th grade English and Gifted and Talented Students for nine years. In 2008, she was involuntarily transferred to Valley Center High School because she was the only teacher in the district who held a single subject credential to teach English at the high school level. Crystal went to the high school ‘kicking and screaming.” She appreciated the patiences of her new principal, who did everything possible to make her feel comfortable, and has remained at Valley Center High School since the transfer in 2008..
In 2013, Crystal became a district Instructional Coach and now works part time assisting other teachers to teach writing across the curriculum. Since implementing these new instructional techniques throughout the curriculum, the district has experienced observable, data based improvement across the board in student writing.
In her many years of teaching, Crystal continues to be inspired by the intense drive and desire of her students. Her classes are filled with a diverse range of students representing every background and socio-economic status. She strongly believes the true measure of success comes not from the percentage of students who pass the AP exam, but rather the number of students who feel confident enough to take on the challenge. Crystal believes the true measure of a teacher’s work comes not from the grade point averages of his/her students, but rather the genuine connections he or she makes with students. Consequently, she takes great pride in the wide range of abilities of the students who sign up for her AP classes and enter her class knowing the rigors that will be expected of them, yet, they come ready and willing to accept the challenges. Crystal's goal for each of her students, regardless of their abilities, is to identify the talent and potential they have yet to realize and expose those talents in each and every one of her students.