Northlake Hills Elementary School teacher Erin Oxhorn-Gilpin has a rule about her own cellphone usage during class: it’s absolutely prohibited. The students in her first- and second-grade combo class are well aware of this rule. So when Oxhorn-Gilpin answered her phone during a recent math lesson, their eyes grew wide.
But their teacher had her reasons. As an L.A. County Teacher of the Year in the running for the coveted California Teacher of the Year award, she was aware that State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson would likely make his calls to the winning teachers that day.
With shaky fingers, she answered her phone and it was, indeed, Torlakson. “I was so nervous and excited, but [after the call] I had to explain to my students — the entire class was staring at me,” Oxhorn-Gilpin says. “I told them their role in this. ‘It’s not just recognizing me, but the work that you do,’ I told them. They very much agreed.”
L.A. County’s other state Teacher of the Year for 2018 is a 21-year veteran teacher: Kirsten Farrell, who teaches sports medicine to ninth through 12th graders at Venice High School. When Farrell answered Torlakson’s call, she was at first overwhelmed, then quickly recovered when she thought about the long-term implications of the recognition. “[This award] really allows me to bring the message that every class, regardless of what it is, and every student, regardless of who they are, have value on a school campus,” Farrell says. “Being selected for this award is extremely validating and will allow me to share how important public education is in California.”
Both teachers point to their own childhood teachers when reflecting on their decision to become educators. “I had a teacher in fourth grade who really took the time to get to know her students. She created a sense of community in the classroom,” says Oxhorn-Gilpin, who has been teaching for 12 years at Northlake, located in the small town of Castaic, near Magic Mountain.
And despite her students’ young ages, Oxhorn-Gilpin has been able to similarly create a sense of community with them, including helping them organize a schoolwide recycling drive that raised money for a local animal shelter.
When Farrell was a child, she attended 10 different schools over the course of her military family’s 17 moves, and believes those experiences gave her a deeper understanding of what constitutes excellent teaching.
As a Regional Occupation/Career Technical Education teacher, she provides hands-on skills that include teaching students how to travel, improve public speaking skills and be independent and responsible. A certified athletic trainer, she leads a team of student trainers knowledgeable about CPR, wound assessment and emergency action plans.
“From giving [students] a place to heal to giving [them] a place to feel welcome, we always know we can count on Ms. Farrell,” Venice High student Gia Perrone says.