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Teachers inspire at Eukel Trust Awards dinner

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, November 25th, 2011 at 4:16 pm in Education.

During the holiday season, many people thank teachers for the contributions they’ve made to their lives, or to the lives of their children.

The Warren Eukel Teacher Trust also recently recognized three teachers who have positively influenced students in Contra Costa County: Brian Mangold, who teaches special education at Stanley Middle School in Lafayette; Victoria Tukeva, a P.E. and dance teacher at Richmond High in Richmond; and Jesse Hansen, who teaches history at San Ramon Valley High in Danville.

The teachers’ speeches at their awards dinner earned each of them standing ovations. I videotaped them and have excerpted the speeches below (sorry the quality of the video isn’t very good.)

After thanking the Warren Eukel Trust, his family, colleagues, students’ parents and other students at the school, Mangold said:

“Finally, I need to thank my students. While I may be their teacher, there are so many things that I’ve learned from them. I’d like to share a few.

I’ve learned to look at things from a different perspective, to question boundaries and expectations that have become the norm. I’ve learned that every mind works differently. I’ve learned that by labeling people by their disability or by what they can’t do, we limit our thinking, limit our approach and often handicap the individuals who are labeled.

I’ve learned that oftentimes, the best explanation is the simplest one. I’ve learned that regardless of one’s intellectual or social level, puberty generally sets in around the same time. And I’ve learned — or more accurately, been reminded — that middle school can be really hard.

I’ve learned from my students that everyone likes to have a choice in control of their life. I’ve learned that when one of my students is struggling, I’ve often made a mistake. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to make mistakes.

I’ve learned about perseverance. I’ve learned about bravery. I’ve learned about patience. I’ve learned from one of my students all of the Disney Pixar movie releases over the last three years.

I’ve learned that few people are great at everything, but most are great at something. I’ve learned that we all have our place in society and that we all make important contributions and impacts.

I’ve learned that square pegs usually don’t fit through circular holes, but that circular pegs often can be squeezed through the square ones. I’ve learned that breaking a small task into simple steps can be very comforting.

Watching my students struggle to express themselves, I’ve learned how frustrating and traumatizing it must be to feel like you have no voice, no say, or no one to listen. I’ve learned that there are different sides to every story and each side can be right. I’ve learned that most aberrant behavior is an attempt to communicate. I’ve learned not to ask particular students of mine whether or not they missed me over the holidays. ‘Not really,’ is often their reply.

I’ve learned that success is all relative. I’ve learned not to pity individuals with special needs. I’ve learned that we all need a good laugh and sometimes, we all break down and cry. I’ve learned that while my students may be very fond of me, I can’t compete with weekends, holidays or pizza. I’ve learned humility.”

Here is a link to Mangold’s speech:

Tukeva spoke about an assembly her students presented to promote a culture of peace at the school, in memory of three students who had died.

“The nerves and preshow excitement are palpable,” she said, speaking in the present tense as she desribed how the production unfolded. “They have prepared for this moment for the last six weeks. They know how important the show is to honor those who have passed and to represent the ideas of peace, love, community and respect.”

The show opens with students performing a traditional Latin American dance, she said.

“Next is a student poet,” she said, “who starts: ‘Treacherous conditions in the city they call Richmond. Hope, can you find me?'”

Tukeva explains that Richmond was ranked the sixth most dangerous city in the nation in 2010.

“Our students might not know the specifics, but they know the violence,” she said. “They live with it every day. They express it through words. Another poet begins: ‘Pain is what I know. Hate is what I see. And rage is what I feel, but it does not destroy me. It gives me strength.'”

The show continued with a slide show honoring those who died, followed by dancers performing to “Man in the Mirror.” At the curtain call, all 80 performers came on stage dressed in white, “to represent peace and unity,” Tukeva said.

She said art is an essential part of the human experience. Artists allow people to see beyond their life experiences, to examine social, cultural and historical issues. Students who take arts courses score higher on standardized tests, she said.

“Of the arts, dance is unique, in that the body is the instrument of creativity,” she said. “This creates a balance between mental and physical activity and integrates mind, body and spirit. Dance provides an athletic experience and can grant one entry into unexplored realms of time, space and energy. Or, as Buzz Lightyear would say: ‘To infinity and beyond.'”

Student performances require memorization, rehearsal, collaboration and courage, Tukeva said.

“Dancers feel confident in character through the process,” she said. “They experience the importance of personal responsibility and fortitude because the success of the entire group rests on the shoulders of each member.”

Tukeva thanked her colleagues and school administration for allowing her to do what she loves to do — teach dance and create theatrical performances. She also thanked her family for their love and support and the Trust for the award.

“And lastly,” she said, “I’d like to thank my students at Richmond High for all their support, knowledge and inspiration.”

Here is a link to Tukeva’s speech:

Hansen, who’s speech resembled a standup comedy routine at times, also thanked his family, colleagues and the Warren Eukel Trust for the award. He spoke about the moments in teaching that make it all worthwhile, highlighting a student’s thoughtful response to a political cartoon that depicted an iphone on a brick wall overlooking people.

The student said: “George Orwell was wrong,” Hansen recalled.

When Hansen asked what he meant, the student said: “The iphone on the brick wall is a little bit like Big Brother looking down.”

Hansen said he complimented the student for his magnificent insight, but asked him to continue his thought regarding Orwell. Orwell predicted that technology could lead to more power for the government and the loss of individual freedoms, the student said.

But, the rise of social media has had the opposite effect, he added. Now individuals have technology in their pockets and they can inform each other about what’s going on in the world and how the government responds.

“Not only did it not give authoritarians more power,” Hansen quoted the student as saying, “but it actually destroyed their power.”

After hearing this, Hansen was nearly speechless. But he got a laugh from the audience, when he added: “I looked at him. And I said: ‘I taught you.'”

Here is a link to Hansen’s speech:

Each of the educators honored had different approaches to teaching, but they all shared a strong passion for what they do, along with great respect and admiration for their students.

What do you think makes a great teacher?

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5 Responses to “Teachers inspire at Eukel Trust Awards dinner”

  1. Doctor J Says:

    Theresa, thank you for the three hankie article. Truly inspiring and uplifting. When teachers empower students to learn, there is no limit to success. Every child can have success.

  2. Just J Says:

    We need to highlight more teachers. Perhaps we should do a mention every week or month.
    I am sure our great teachers would love to read how they are changing the life of a student.
    I myself had 3 teachers that changed me for the better. These teachers are forever in my heart and prayers.

  3. Doctor J Says:

    Maybe MDEA on its website ought to be highlighting an elementary, middle and high school teacher of the month every month ?

  4. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here is a link to a new blog post in which MDEA President Mike Langley rebuts a Times editorial regarding removing incompetent teachers:

  5. Dan Birkhaeuser Says:

    The Warren W. Eukel Teacher Trust is accepting nominations for this year’s awards until May 24, 2012. Nomination forms can be found on the Trust’s website:

    If you know of a truly great teacher that is deserving of our award, please take the time to let us know.

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