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March 17, 2010 > Rancho Milpitas Science instructor - Educator of the Year finalist

Rancho Milpitas Science instructor - Educator of the Year finalist

By Steve Wyant

In what is becoming a tradition for Milpitas, The California League of Middle Schools (CLMS) honored Rancho Milpitas science teacher Catherine Thompson as a finalist for Region 5 in their 2009 Educator of the Year Program. This is the second year in a row that a Milpitas Middle School teacher has been recognized for excellence by the CLMS. The Region 5 winner in 2008 was Suzanne Hughes of Thomas Russell Middle School.

Region 5 encompasses Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Counties. Within each region, schools are selected based on performance. Rancho Ohlone teachers voted for Thompson to represent the school. At the regional competition, held at the Fairmont Hotel, San Jose on December 10, 2009, finalists delivered a speech. The topic of Thompson's speech was 'Why I Became a Middle School Teacher.'

Thompson's five-year teaching career started in Southern California where she grew up. She taught for two years at her former high school, Santiago High School, Corona, before moving north. She has been at Rancho Ohlone for three years.

"Since I was little, I was the oldest, I used to make my little brother and sister be my students," said Thompson who always wanted to be a teacher.

When she finished high school, she initially thought teaching wasn't a very "prestigious profession" so she decided to pursue a science career, majoring in biology at California Baptist University in Riverside, a small private university.

By her junior year, after doing internships and looking at various career paths, she couldn't find her passion.

"Once I started dabbling in teaching again I was excited and passionate about it, so I knew that was where I wanted to be," she recalled.

Doors opened and Thompson immediately found a teaching position after college, teaching in her own classroom at Santiago High School while earning a teaching credential.

Thompson moved north to the Bay Area with her husband, who was enrolling in a Chiropractic College. She initially applied for teaching positions at high-school level, with middle school applications as a back-up. She was a little apprehensive at first when she had the opportunity to teach at Rancho Ohlone but now loves it. One reason is the school has developed a team-oriented, student-focused approach in which students have the same four teachers. According to Thompson, teachers collaborate for each student's benefit; high school environments are different.

Her personal teaching philosophy is to take each student to their next level and help him or her discover what gives them a desire to learn.

"I think the way to do that is to develop relationships with students to help them experience success. It does not necessarily have to be in science but if they can find something at which they are good and experience what it is like to be seen as being good, then they will enjoy school, make more connections with adults and feel like they fit in... making it easier for them to connect with the content and making it easier for them to learn."

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