Dozens of impressive nominations for the best first-year teacher were submitted to Los Angeles Unifed School District. Fortunately, a former participant in our Transition to Teaching (TTT) program, Dr. LaTeira Haynes, won the 2016 “Rookie Teacher of the Year” award.
A STEM teacher (biology, physiology and forensic science) at Mervyn Dymally High School in South Los Angeles, Dr. Haynes left a promising career in biomedical research to fulfill her passion for K-12 education. In 2015, she enrolled into the TTT program ran by CSI3 to complete her single subject credential. Now as a high school teacher, she is the first to instruct in Dymally’s new forensic science program.
In article by Cal State University Dominguez Hills, Haynes details her recognition in the following statement:
I didn’t know I was nominated, so I was a bit surprised, but very honored to learn that I was going to receive the Rookie teacher of the Year award … I will say, it has been a great year, but at the same time it’s been one of the most challenging years that I’ve ever had in my life. But I love it, I love my students, and I’m just really excited to know that shows.
A Q&A. Haynes is spending her summer in Korea, but spoke to us about how she left the academy to pursue a career in K-12 education, and the lessons she learned along with way.
What field did you earn your doctorate degree?
LaTeira. I have a doctorate degree in Biomedical Sciences from UC San Diego.
What did you research? What was the outcome?
LaTeira. I researched the immune system, its development, and its effect on atherosclerosis. I wrote my dissertation on a protein that affects the development and characteristics of natural killer cells, which are immune cells that are some of the first responders in viral infections and are also important in pregnancy.
If this connects to you being an educator. How?
LaTeira. While working on my doctorate I realized that science is not taught as it should be in K-12 schools. I had not learned many of the integral skills of a scientist in my schooling and I had to learn a lot about being independent, diving deep into a subject and pursuing and using knowledge to further my exploration rather than to just get an A on a test. I decided to be a part of the NSF-funded Socrates program at UCSD and work with high school students instead of college students to fulfill my TA requirement. I loved working with high school students! They were so fun and it was a refreshing challenge to make my research understandable for them. It was [such] a wonderful experience that started me on my course to become an educator.
What is your approach to teaching? Attitude? Purpose? Methods?
LaTeira. I approach teaching with a customer service/personal trainer mindset. My goal is to do whatever I can to get my students in the shape that they need to [be], in order to be successful in their endeavours in the world. I am there to motivate, instruct, and support just as a personal trainer is. I adapt to what they need and my training program adapts accordingly. I work hard to get to know them and find out what makes them tick so that I can help them in the best way possible. I challenge my students and make them work hard but I am always present to assist. As I always tell my students, “a personal trainer never does the work for you but they motivate and assist you to do things that you never thought that you could.”
How were you selected as the LAUSD’s Rookie Teacher of the Year?
LaTeira. I was nominated by my principal and selected from a pool of about 80 or so teachers who were nominated.
What do you think you did that made you stand out?
LaTeira. I like to try new things and am highly adaptable. I brought in many things that were not being used by my colleagues that turned out to work very well for our students. [Additionally, I am] always eager to learn and share.
Please provide 3 tips to new teachers on getting through the first few years of their teaching career.
- Do not do more work than your students. They should always be working harder than you during class.
- Do not get frustrated. Things will often work in a way that you had not planned and it’s ok. You learn and you move on from that.
- Enjoy your students and learn from them. Remember that their behavior stems from something deeper. Be patient with them and strive to show them love everyday.
How did you select the TTT program?
LaTeira. I absolutely love Dr. Hamdan and his staff! When I had my interview with Dr. Hamdan and Kekai [Bryant-Williams], I immediately knew I was meant to be in his program. I also wanted to be able to work and get my credential at the same time.
What did you do before?
LaTeira. I defended my dissertation on May 27th and I began the TTT program on June 1st. I didn’t have much time in-between.
What were the benefits of being in the TTT program?
LaTeira. The financial, academic, emotional, and professional support from the program is phenomenal. It really is like being a part of a family.
Please talk about the key things that you learned.
LaTeira. I have learned that my students need a place that is safe more than anything. And if you truly care about your students, they know that and they will behave in a manner that is conducive to learning. So much of teaching, especially in the inner city, is relationship. When you break down walls, they can learn anything and excel past your expectations.
What made you become a teacher?
LaTeira. I really love seeing people live to their potential; it is one of my passions. It deeply saddens me to see someone with potential waste it or live completely unaware of their brilliance.
What are some things that satisfy you about this career?
LaTeira. I love my students. I love learning all of the time. I love the problem solving aspect of teaching. It’s like a big experiment/engineering problem, “how can I help each of these students learn and live to their potential?” I spend a lot of time trying to think of creative ways to get my students engaged.
What are some challenges?
LaTeira. The amount of time I spend making lessons for three different courses is a challenge. It’s really hard to teach every course excellently. Time management is also difficult when you do more than teach, such as leading PDs (professional development workshops), and sponsoring clubs, etc.
Are you in Korea for teaching? Please explain.
LaTeira. I went to Korea for a fun time with friends to celebrate my BFF’s 30th birthday. We all love Korean music and television so we just wanted to go and explore the country.
How will this experience help you in the classroom?
I believe that the experience can help me with the new Korean club that will be held at my school (we teach Korean as a foreign language). I also help a lot of my students with their Korean work. 🙂
What is your interest in Korea?
LaTeira. I am an avid consumer of Korean TV shows and K-pop. I stumbled upon the shows on Hulu and now they are the only thing that I watch. They are awesome. Everyone should give them a try.
Please talk about pivotal moments while there.
LaTeira. It was just interesting to be in such a homogenous country. It really made me appreciate the diversity that we have in the US. I realized how fortunate I am to live in such a diverse country. It’s a shame that we don’t appreciate and use our diversity as much as we should.
Haynes received her bachelor’s from Spelman College and a Ph.D. from UC San Diego.