Isabel Morales (’05) and Hector Perez-Roman (’05) are now in the running for California’s Teacher of the Year Award.
Isabel Morales (’05, M.Ed., B.A., ’02, Sociology/Chicana/o Studies) and Hector Perez-Roman (’05, M.Ed., Secondary Teaching Credential in Social Studies) have been named Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year. This is a prestigious honor, with only five teachers selected from throughout the county. The two graduates of the Teacher Education Program at UCLA Ed & IS are now contenders for the statewide 2015 Teacher of the Year title, to be announced in late October.
Morales, a government, economics and advanced placement teacher at Robert F. Kennedy Los Angeles High School of the Arts, and Perez-Roman, a world history/advanced placement teacher at Arleta High School, have both been teaching for ten years. They are also both products of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and as such, drew from their experiences when aspiring to their teaching careers.
“My daily bus rides showed me that Los Angeles was a city of contradictions and juxtapositions, neglected neighborhoods adjacent to impeccable communities that seemed worlds apart,” recalls Morales. “It seemed unfair that I and so many other students should have to leave our neighborhoods in order to receive an adequate education.
“Opportunities to learn and thrive should exist in all communities, regardless of socioeconomic status. I chose to become a teacher to provide students like me with a rigorous and inspiring educational experience,” she says.
“I had outstanding teachers and counselors who took me under their wings to improve my writing skills, leadership abilities, inspire me to think about a college education, and look beyond my neighborhood for greater career and learning opportunities,” notes Perez-Roman. “That experience resonated with me after I completed my undergraduate work and wanted to be able to do the same for a new generation of students.”
Morales and Perez-Roman say that their work comes with many challenges, among them economic limitations and the demands of a diverse student population.
“One of the greatest professional challenges is meeting the diverse academic and socioemotional needs of 120 unique adolescents, with very limited resources,” says Morales.
“The diversity of learning abilities in my classes makes teaching a very challenging profession,” says Perez-Roman. “Not only do you have to keep a rigorous pace but also make sure English learners are getting individual support, implement lessons that will connect with visual and auditory learners, and provide a space for students to develop competent social skills.”
When asked why they thought they were chosen as L.A. County Teachers of the Year, Morales and Perez-Roman say that their commitment to civic engagement takes their teaching out of the classroom and leaves a profound impact on students and communities alike.
“I see my classroom as a laboratory for civic and academic engagement, and work hard to create opportunities that allow students to see themselves as more than they think they are,” says Morales. “My students have traveled to Washington, D.C., presented at research conferences in San Francisco, and served as panelists at local universities. These experiences teach them that they have valuable insights and leadership skills to contribute to our larger society.”
“I [am] able to effectively share my passion, joy and dedication I have for students and the community I serve,” says Perez-Roman. “I provide a student-centered learning environment, both in and out of the classroom. I have established a student travel program with successful trips to Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, the 2013 Presidential Inauguration, Spain, Italy, France, Washington, D.C., and New York City. I constantly connect historical content with pop culture and social media to engage students in a deeper understanding of their world, and I challenge students to learn-outside the box by writing songs, producing short films, and using social-media as an extension of our learning community.”
Despite the pressures of teaching, Perez-Roman and Morales say that they reap many rewards from their students and the individuals that they are able to see them become.
“I feel successful when my former students come back as mentors to the younger students, and reach out to me for help in these endeavors,” says Morales. “When my students earn fellowships to conduct community-based research, when they land internships in Washington, D.C., when they continue on to graduate school in order to advance the progress of marginalized communities, I feel successful. As I see them grow and become community advocates for change, I know that I am fulfilling my purpose – teaching them in order to make this world a better place.”
Success for Morales and Perez-Roman is not always measured in grades and college-bound students. They also value the small but profound human interactions that their careers have brought them as a fringe benefit.
“The most surprising part of this work is the unexpected effect that we have on students,” says Morales. One student came back years after graduating to thank me for helping him to discover his passion for music. One small assignment – creating a song about economic concepts – revealed his true inner passion
“I also feel successful when my former students come back as mentors to the younger students, and reach out to me for help in these endeavors,” she says. “When my students earn fellowships to conduct community-based research, when they land internships in Washington, D.C., when they continue on to graduate school in order to advance the progress of marginalized communities, I feel successful. As I see them grow and become community advocates for change, I know that I am fulfilling my purpose – teaching them in order to make this world a better place.”
“There are always surprises,” says Perez-Roman,”whether it is a student who rarely speaks in your classroom but will say ‘hello’ to you when you see them at a football game, or students who come together to help a peer in a time of crisis.
“The best aspect of teaching is the students,” enthuses Perez-Roman. “They are extremely curious and excited to learn. This drives me every day to provide a quality education to so many young adults with bright futures ahead of them.”
Above: UCLA’s TEP alumni Isabel Morales (front row, third from left), and Hector Perez-Roman (front row, far right) are among five teachers who have been named L.A.. County Teachers of the Year.
L-R: Maricar Fortuno Calatán, Lovelyn Marquez-Prueher, Morales, Michael Morgan, and Perez-Roman. Courtesy of LAUSDCourtesy of LAUSD