2017 Outstanding Teacher of America
AP Calculus and Engineering Teacher
Carbrillo High School
Long Beach, California
Kenneth grew up in a rough area of Lakewood, California, without a father and raised by a single, German mother who was very rigid and strict. As a single parent, she worked low paying jobs, the family had very little money and spent a lot of time not having enough food to eat. Consequently, Kenneth had to fend for himself as his mother worked 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. There was little, if any support from his father. Kenneth, essentially, raised himself and was not the best student. He had to work very hard to get even passing grades. His 6th grade teacher once told him, "You will never become anything! You are worthless and your mom will live a happier life if your were gone." These were the words that changed his life. These words were followed with Kenneth's response - he slapped her in the face.
From that point forward, every administrator, teacher and counselor tried to scare Kenneth into making better choices and not making life miserable for his mother. No one took the time to walk him through his behavior or showed him how he was the one responsible for the trouble he was getting into. He blamed everyone else until he entered the 8th grade and was fortunate to have two teachers who actually took the time to work with him and very calmly showed him that he had choices in life and his decisions had consequences. They talked with him and listened to him and treated him like he really mattered. They 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 made him understand how his choice affected others. Both were math teachers. It was that year in the 8th grade with those two teachers that changed his life. However, when he got to high school, his reputation proceeded him, thanks to an older sister who paved the way. His high school teachers did not believe he was a capable student because he was such a trouble maker.
The one thing Kenneth could do was run and one day his PE Teacher and Track Coach asked him a question no one had ever asked. He asked, "Who are you, Kenny and what is it that you want?" It took Kenneth a long time to find the answer and he still find that the answer changes from time to time.
Kenneth turned his life around and after graduation from high school, he attended Long Beach State University where he majored in Mathematics, earned both his Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Mathematics, and received his teaching credential. Kenneth went immediately to Cabrillo High School where he as been teaching for nineteen years. Kenneth teaches AP Calculus, Engineering and spent nine years as the Math Department Chair.
Kenneth sees himself in all of his students and his devoted to seeing that not one ever experiences what he experienced as a young boy. He now posts the question asked of him by his track coach on his classroom wall and asks his students find their answers to this question. Kenneth feels that if he can get students to answer this question, they will begin to think about who they want to be and what they really want to do in their future, and, just as it happened for him, their answer will help make their choices easier to consider and, more often than not, they will choose to do something that will make their family and themselves proud. And, this is one of the first messages he gives to every one of his students every year.