Four South Jordan educators shine for dedication to studentsAug 04, 2022 01:53PM ● By Julie Slama
our area top educators in Jordan School District were recently surprised as they were honored in front of their peers and students for their teaching excellence.
South Jordan Elementary teacher Patricia Gotberg had walked in the school’s multi-purpose room with her class as the choir teacher was directing the audience in a song.
“I remember thinking this choir assembly was really spur of the moment,” said the 35-year veteran teacher. “It seemed to take a bit for the choir to begin, so I thought, ‘They’re stalling for something.’ I thought about sneaking out and going back to my classroom to work on something. Then Bryce (Eardley, the principal) came in and cameras were following him, so I thought, ‘Wow, he’s winning another award’ because he had just won some award over in Tooele (School District) where he had just come from. So, I was clapping when I saw my family follow Bryce. I remember thinking, ‘Why are they here?’ And all of sudden, it dawned on me.”
Each year the Jordan Education Foundation honors an outstanding teacher in each of the 67 schools in Jordan School District. Each educator was surprised — ambush-style — at their school, in front of their classroom and peers, letting them know they are the 2022 JEF Outstanding Educator from their school and were given $500 and a crystal award, said Anne Gould with the Jordan Education Foundation.
The top 12 of those educators along with the outstanding principal, and JEF student scholarship recipients, were honored at a banquet held in their honor and given $1,000 and a crystal award, she added.
Gotberg, along with River’s Edge’s Carnell Cummings, Elk Meadows’ Tracy Huish, and Bingham High’s Braxton Thornley, are the four South Jordan educators that were recognized amongst the top 12.
Other South Jordan teachers of the year include Mindy Carroll, Aspen; Amanda Lankford, Daybreak; Katie Shaw, Eastlake; Chris Lyon, Elk Ridge Middle; Stacie Thompson, Golden Fields; Melissa Cumming, Jordan Ridge; Tracy McCurdy, Monte Vista; Karlee English, Mountain Creek Middle; Kim Player, South Jordan Middle; and Carolyn Smith, Welby.
Jordan Education Foundation’s outstanding educator awards committee chairperson Tina Rothe said the experience from reading the nominations submitted by each principal with the assistance of peers, students and parents to making the heart-warming pop-in visits is rewarding.
“Every year we like to surprise some of those wonderful teachers who lift and inspire their students every day,” she said. “All year long they go above and beyond to make sure that their classrooms are a safe place, spending money out of their own pockets to enhance their classroom activities and making sure their students feel loved. As an award committee we have the privilege of reading all of these nominations. Trust me, we are usually in tears before we are finished reading every one of them. We are always in awe that the teachers continue to stand firm with the promise they have made to have each student leave their classroom every day knowing that they are valued.”
Jordan Education Foundation Executive Director Mike Haynes agrees: “It is a special opportunity to be part of this committee that gets to walk in the classroom and thank them for what they do and the impact they’re making on our students. Every one of them is overwhelmed they are being recognized for what they do.”
Gotberg, who is in her 14th year teaching sixth grade after spending 21 years educating first-graders, incorporates hands-on learning activities in her classroom lessons.
This spring, she led her students in a play about the American Revolution. Gotberg sewed more than 25 costumes for her students, created backdrops and directed each student to have a speaking part in the play that introduced stories of Thomas Jefferson, Betsy Ross, King George, Paul Revere, John Hancock, Alexander Hamilton, the Second Continental Congress, the Militia Recoats and the Constitutional Convention.
Through the play, Gotberg said her students learned history, theater skills, leadership, self-advocacy and supporting one another.
Her hands-on lessons aren’t limited to productions; they also occur daily with interactive science experiments.
“I let them figure out if matter changes when you do different things to it. A favorite one the kids like is figuring out if you add up all the parts if it’s going to be equal amount of mass as if they were separate. We do that by making this Twinkie bug and they have all the different parts they weigh first. Then they determine if it’s going to be the same once it’s together,” she said. “Parents really like how the kids are getting to learn by doing these hands-on activities.”
Even with her experience, Gotberg said the key to her instruction is that she doesn’t teach the same thing year-in and year-out.
“Every year I’m reinventing the wheel to try to make it better. Instead of just having a file I pull it out to do the same lessons, I try to meet the needs of the kids,” she said. “Sometimes the lessons need to be altered depending on the needs of the kids and so that’s why I go home exhausted. I don’t just sit in my chair, I’m always out and about and helping them learn.”
Cummings is a teacher specialist at River’s Edge, one of the District’s three special education schools.
In Cummings’ nomination, he is described as a “teacher specialist extraordinaire” who connects with and supports students while attending River’s Edge as well as when they attend a mainstream class or enroll in the post-high program Independent University, which he oversees.
“His priority is to reach each and every student and to provide a safe and positive learning environment,” the nominator wrote. “Carnell embodies our motto ‘Every Day is a New Day.’ He comes ready to connect with the students and support the teachers, regardless of the daily behavioral challenges we navigate as a staff, which are often quite significant.”
It was after lunch on a Monday when Huish was helping a student with a math problem, her back to the classroom door.
“All of a sudden, my door opens and a ton of people came screaming through my door,” she remembered. “I turned around and screamed out loud. It was a complete shock. I saw Dr. Godfrey in the back, and they were saying, ‘Congratulations’ and I still didn’t know what was happening.”
Huish taught for six years, then put her career on hold for 25 years to raise her own children. This is her fourth year back in the classroom.
“There’s nothing similar to what it was like 25 years ago. It has been an adjustment,” she said – adding that the COVID-19 pandemic was an additional adjustment.
So, Huish didn’t have any expectations for an award.
“It was just so touching, but there is no way in my entire life I expected that,” she said. “I work hard, and I try to do a good job with the children. It’s nice to know that someone has seen that effort. What meant the most is that your hard work pays off in a way. There are many others that could receive the same award and maybe they haven’t had someone take notice.”
Huish’s nomination included some “very sweet little clips from parents and clips from other teachers that were very nice and very thoughtful.”
She finds delight in watching students learn.
“There’s something to watch when all of a sudden, they can explain something new and hear them explain it,” Huish said. “We were doing a science experiment sprouting seeds and they were so excited when they saw the first sprout come out. You’d think they’d won $1 million when simply a seed sprouted. I thought, ‘Man to be like a child again, you find such joy with even the littlest things.’”
Huish originally planned to pursue business, but while in school, she realized she wanted to teach children. She stayed in college another year to earn her early childhood education degree with a minor in law.
“My grandma taught school from the time she was 18 till she retired at 65 and I grew up seeing that,” Huish said. “Maybe that had something to do with me wanting to teach. Honestly, I can’t tell you what made me slip into elementary ed., but it was it was a good thing for me. It’s so rewarding knowing you can make a difference with children. It’s a privilege knowing that their parents share their kids with me during the day.”
Not only is Thornley an English teacher, he also serves as Bingham’s technology coach. So, when he was asked by a vice principal a week before educators were to meet for ACT training, he didn’t think anything of it. But, he didn’t like it was during his lunch.
“I said, ‘I really don’t want to come down during lunch; I need my lunch.’ That’s the one time I have during the day, so I was kind of resistant to her. She said she didn’t really have the ability to reschedule because of the district’s timeline. I just told her, ‘I’m not going to come but if you need me, feel free to run up to my room if anything pops up.’ That’s where we left it. A week later, she came to my room and said, ‘Remember that training? We really need you down there.’ So, I walked with her and when we reached the auditorium, all my students were in there cheering and yelling, and my wife and daughter were there clapping. At that point, I realized it wasn’t an ACT training.”
It was the second recent award his students got to celebrate with him. He also received the Utah Jazz Most Valuable Educator Award for making an impact in his school and community and for being an inspiration in the lives of his students. With the award, he was given a $1,000 classroom grant.
In college, Thornley changed his major from computer science and graphic design to become a teacher.
“I wanted to do something that I felt was a little bit more meaningful. I actually went back to my high school and talked with one of my teachers. All he said was you just need to find something that matters in some way. I decided that teaching was the thing that mattered for me. I can help students and make a lot of impact.”
That impact and caring of students was part of his nomination. His colleague, special education teacher Kari Ortiz, co-teaches a class with Thornley.
“She said that she rarely sees teachers who care so much about students and that’s probably the thing that I’m most proud of,” he said, adding that the idea behind the class “is that when you integrate special education students into the general education classroom, it improves the special education students’ performance” and at the same time, it doesn’t detract from the general education students’ learning and it may teach them more about being inclusive. “I do really like working with students who have more needs than just the average student.”
That love of inclusion has been part of why Thornley also has served as Bingham High’s unified sports coach, a program that pairs up special education student-athletes with their peers on the field, court and track. It’s an extracurricular position he has held since 2020.
“I’m doing a lot; I teach four sections of classes and I have three periods that are dedicated to supporting teachers in improving their use of technology. Every week I send out training videos on different technology tools, and I hold monthly trainings and do one-on-one coaching,” he said. “I was working on things so that’s why I was telling her that I needed my lunch, but I’m glad I went. It would have been unfortunate if I didn’t.” λ