Two Turlock educators who go above and beyond for their students were recently rewarded for their commitment to learning by being named finalists for the 2017 Stanislaus County Teachers of the Year program, which not only honors local teachers and celebrates excellence in education, but also provides an opportunity for teachers to receive state and national recognition.
Turlock’s two finalists have a combined 34 years working within Turlock Unified School District. Laura Brem, a Social Science teacher at Pitman High School, has spent 14 years teaching AP U.S. Government and Politics and U.S. Government and Economics to seniors, while at Cunningham Elementary School, fourth grade GATE teacher Stacy Oldfield is in her 20th year of instructing.
Principals were responsible for nominating instructors they felt exemplify the characteristics of an outstanding teacher, and when Cunningham Elementary School Principal Tami Truax thought of Oldfield, three words came to mind.
“Dedicated, professional, selfless,” said Truax. “Stacy not only works diligently to meet the needs of each of her gifted and talented students, but she continually organizes opportunities for all Cunningham students to enjoy their education.”
Oldfield organizes countless school-wide activities on campus, such as the elementary school’s talent show, science fair and plays – all events that are critical to helping students enjoy learning, she said.
“It’s important to me that students do have equal opportunities, so I like to provide that kind of support because they deserve that in their education,” said Oldfield.
The campus events that Oldfield plans are focused on all aspects of learning, whether it be through science, reading, the arts or athletics. She’s involved in the Accelerated Reader program, which encourages students to read, and motivates children at the school to stay active with the Marathon Mile event.
To keep her students motivated in the classroom, Oldfield uses what she calls a “discovery approach.”
“Each and every day when I come and prepare lessons, I try to keep it light because kids need to not feel some of the pressures of having to learn,” said Oldfield. “You set up the lesson so that they’ll learn without even realizing their journey – you just point them in the right direction.”
Oldfield works tirelessly to make Cunningham a better place, said Truax, ensuring every student is successful through thoughtful lesson planning, professional development and collaboration with her colleagues. The support of her fellow staff at Cunningham has made her job that much easier, Oldfield said.
“No one teacher can do what we do here by ourselves,” said Oldfield. “We need the help of our principal, the help of each other, because as soon as one person falls the other person brings you up. I feel that’s what we do for each other.”
At Pitman High School, Principal Amy Curd didn’t have to think twice when nominating Brem for the Teachers of the Year program.
“Laura is a transformational leader on our campus who is willing to challenge the status quo as she pursues our mission to ensure success for each student,” said Curd.
Curd described Brem as patient, hard-working and student-centered, designing lessons that are relevant and meaningful to her students’ growth. When she was a senior in high school, Brem’s parents adopted four young children, exposing her to the fact that not all children have equal opportunities – especially when it comes to education.
“I realized that education was one of the major factors to break the cycle of poverty. Drugs and abuse into which they were born, and yet at the same time would be one of the biggest challenges for them to overcome.”
For that reason, Brem decided to become an educator and advocate for students. She has made several fundamental changes to her teaching style, she said, allowing her to get to know her students individually and personally and helping them to reach their learning objectives.
“I knew I needed to build better relationships with my students,” said Brem. “So, I started reaching out – going to their sports events, asking about their day, checking on them when they missed class, greeting them at the door – and instead of 200 empty faces staring at me, I saw individuals looking back at me, each with their own unique story.”
Her students are the most rewarding part about teaching, she added, and their daily interactions encourage her to come to work each day.
“Education is the foundation for which our students will build their lives,” said Brem. “The goal of education is not to teach them what to think, but how to think and that skill will last them a lifetime.”