Excited to be a teacher and nicknamed "the Energizer Bunny," Susan Peters, an educator in the Ceres Unified School District for the past 32 years, is one of four county "Teachers of the Year."
"She is truly an exemplary teacher," said Principal Lori Mariani, who nominated the 26-year third-grade teacher for the honor. "She is one of those individuals who was born to teach, a real natural."
Peters could be one of two county teachers who go on for the state "Teacher of the Year" honor in Sacramento.
The local winners received a $1,000 cash award from the Modesto Rotary Club and Stanislaus County Office of Education. Teachers were nominated by their principals and finalists were selected from 87 nominees representing 19 school districts in Stanislaus County. A selection committee, composed of local Rotarians and educators, narrowed the nominations through a paper screening process and then visited the classrooms of 24 semi-finalists before narrowing it down to the 12 finalists.
Extremely modest, Peters was shocked to learn of Mariani's nomination but was assured that she deserved the honor. "She said, ‘Why would you do that?'" said Mariani. "She said, ‘There's so many great teachers here, why would you do that?' And I said, ‘Susan, you're great.'"
Peters said that her desire to be a teacher was fueled by her own lack of confidence as a student.
"Every teacher has ... the student who is bouncing at his or her desk, anxiously looking out the window waiting for recess...during a math lesson," said Peters. "Well, I was that kid. I was the one that teachers constantly reprimanded, put down, and basically thought a lost cause. Looking back, my lack of confidence as a student fueled my desire to be a great teacher. A key component of why I became a teacher was that I wanted to provide a learning environment that suited all children and an educational experience that far exceeded my own."
Peters said she was helped by her "very creative" mother who was a teacher. Susan volunteered in her mom's summer school classroom which allowed her to see her mother's "amazing way to engage her students."
"It was the time when I was able to learn about behavioral modification and implementing reward systems, which helped me realize a love and gift I had of being able to connect with children."
Marini said that she admires Peters' "positive enthusiasm for learning. Although Susan is a veteran teacher, she still shows the excitement of a new teacher when it comes to learning a new strategy or trying a new skill. Her level of excitement is contagious. Her students know she loves her job as much as she loves them."
Peters likes to keep things interesting in her classroom by making it fun. That means making foil rockets to talk about space exploration and the moon, or having students watch an erupting volcano on a desktop to teach about earth science.
"That may seem bizarre, but these are just a few of the repeated experiences over the last three decades that have kept imagination flowing and learning exciting," she said. "I often try to incorporate a history lesson, an art project, or a science experiment into core reading, writing, and math objectives. Bringing new life into lessons with a high energy level enables me to set students up to be successful testers. Students are able
to put fundamentals into context and are more confident."
Karmjot Singh, a third-grader in Peters' classroom, said he believes his teacher is nice and believes the class is fun. He especially remembers fun projects like when his class built a snowman out of construction paper.
After graduation from the credential program at CSU Stanislaus and student teaching, Peters was hired at Don Pedro Elementary School in Ceres where she primarily taught third grade for 24 years. She then transferred to La Rosa Elementary School eight years ago where she continues to teach third-graders. Over the years she has served on the Science Committee, Mentor and GATE Committees, coordinated talent shows and school performances, studied Tribes and is certified in Direct Instruction.
"I also have tried to make myself more accessible to students who need additional attention by teaching summer school, after school enrichment programs, and intervention," said Peters. "In my experience every child has something unique and special to contribute. I learn from them daily."
Peters said that she still surprises herself despite having spent 32 years in the classroom. She said that while she tires out in a room full of eight year olds, she still loves every minute.
"It's possible that I've always had an idealistic notion to do my part to make the world a better place. I'm lucky. I found my calling...to help children love to learn. I am not so naïve to think I have been able to change the course of every student's education, but I do believe I have been able to connect with every student and provide each of them with the confidence to love learning during the short window I'm given."
Acknowledging that being selected a "Teacher of the Year" is a great honor, she said that her fulfillment comes from her students.
"My greatest teaching accomplishments are an accumulation of small victories in the classroom. The smile on a child's face when they finally understand a concept or a former student visiting my classroom and sharing that I helped inspire them to love school, is all I need to feel gratified. Each time I hear I have positively impacted a child, I feel rewarded knowing that in my class they received the best education possible."