EG Unified announces Teachers of the Year | News

One is a fourth-generation music teacher, and the other is on her way to college after being motivated by a tough but inspiring U.S. Navy colonel in her high school’s Junior ROTC class. These are the stories of Rachel Baird, an English teacher at Cosumnes Oaks, and Nathan Courtright, a music teacher at Florin High School. Elk Grove Unified School District staff surprised us in their classrooms and announced that they are the teachers of the year for the 2021-22 school year.

This week they talked to the Citizen about what inspired them to be teachers and their education philosophies. Baird and Courtright are now qualifying for the Sacramento County Teachers of the Year competition.

Rachel Baird, Cosumnes Oaks High School

Rachel Baird grew up in the King & Story neighborhood of San Jose, where there was a “fairly strong band presence.”

She recalled having many high school classmates who were expelled for crimes such as fights and possessing drug paraphernalia, due to her school’s “zero tolerance” policy.

“A lot of people I knew who were good, caring people were kicked out of school,” Baird said.

She noted the importance of teachers being positive and adult role models for their students.

“As I got older, I saw that it was reduced to who had that supportive adult in their lives and who didn’t,” Baird said. “I think that made a big difference in me, not just as a teacher, but as a human being.”

She recently completed her seventh year of teaching English at Cosumnes Oaks High School.

Baird attributed it to some high school teachers who pushed her to follow the path of college, and one that particularly affected her was Colonel Michael Clough, who taught in her high school’s US Marine Junior ROTC program.

“I had very strict expectations for what I wanted you to be, but it taught you a lot of leadership skills and traits; I think that’s why I was successful in high school,” he said.

Baird added that he knew he wanted to work with troubled teens from then on. She first worked as a Santa Barbara County parole officer after graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Baird later began teaching after she was fired from the Sacramento County Juvenile Parole Board during the recession of the late 2000s. She was motivated to become an educator when she wanted to prevent teens from entering the criminal justice system.

“I’ve only done parole for minors – you usually see teenagers who are at their lowest points and that definitely wears you out after a while,” he said.

Baird recalled shopping at a Hallmark store and meeting an employee who used to be his probationary time. He said he was back in school and no longer used methamphetamine.

“It was that specific moment where I wanted to see more of this,” he said.

Baird earned his master’s degree in education from the University of California, Davis and taught as a student at Florin High School before transferring to Cosumnes Oaks High.

He mentioned that he helped start the advanced placement seminar and the school’s research classes, which are the only ones of their kind in the Elk Grove school district. The teacher said that in a class, students have the challenge of selecting any research topic and conducting their research study. They must then defend their conclusions in front of a panel, just like a college student defending a thesis or a dissertation.

“I learned to do it while I was getting my master’s degree,” Baird said, laughing. “I always tell them, ‘You guys are doing an incredibly hard job.'”

Asked about the importance of an English high school education, she said she wants students to get involved in the democratic process and become educated voters. He added that he mainly teaches non-fiction materials and directs classroom topics on current events.

“(It’s about) understanding arguments, looking at things from multiple perspectives, and coming to conclusions based on facts rather than other people’s opinions,” Baird said.

The teacher said her educational philosophy is to focus on the individual needs of the student.

“My big overall goal is that it has to be about the student,” Baird said. “Too often we are overwhelmed with our workloads or with a new initiative coming out or we have to try things this way. But what really comes down is that we have unique and individual students in front of us who have individual needs and you have to constantly remember that it’s about them … Here’s a human being in front of me, and my job is to know them and they have to understand that I am here to help and support them. “

Nathan Courtright, Florin High School

Nathan Courtright was 3 years old when he decided he wanted to be a music teacher. All he had to do was watch his father get dressed and conduct a school concert.

“I was spending my time with the big kids and during a 3 year old brain, I thought,‘ Man, Dad has this discovered! ’” Courtright recalled. “After the show, I spoke my mother’s ear on the way home and said I was going to do what Dad did.”

He is a fourth-generation music educator from the small town of Hesperia in Michigan. And he’s a bassoonist. His father gave him a bassoon when he was in fourth grade and told him to “find out.” He joked with Citizen saying he is still discovering that woodwind instrument.

Courtright became a high school music teacher shortly after graduating from Central University of Michigan.

“I was so young when I got into this,” he said of becoming a music teacher. “This has always been what I am: it’s not what I do, it’s what I am, so there were no other options.”

Courtright later lived and taught in a dramatically different climate in the Palm Springs region of California.

“I’ve found that I’m intolerant of the desert,” he said, noting his comfort with Michigan’s cold winter. “The desert and I didn’t see eye to eye.”

The teacher moved north to cooler surroundings in the Tracy area and began teaching at Florin High in 2014. Her classes at Florin include orchestra, jazz band, and advanced placement music theory. In his theory class, students are taught to write musical compositions.

“It’s pretty intense, but for those who are into it, it’s a lot of fun,” Courtright said. “It’s the work of how to publish and how to compose compositions, that’s why this t-shirt.”

In his interview, he wore a new T-shirt that featured a complicated musical score and a question in large black letters: “What part of this don’t you understand?”

Courtright said his teaching philosophy is to always strive for improvement.

“Overnight, it’s all about what we have to do to improve – it’s to be better tomorrow than today,” he said. “If your mindset is always to do better, there’s no obstacle you can’t overcome.”

The professor recalled a talented flutist from the Florin Institute who decided he wanted to study music in college instead of pursuing a medical career. Courtright said she spent countless hours working with him and preparing him for his college music auditions.

His student ended up being the only flutist to be accepted into the prestigious California Institute of the Arts.

“This was a kid coming out of Florin High School,” he said of his student who became a musician and teacher in Southern California.

Asked about his future in music education, Courtright said he joked with his students that he would die on a concert podium.

“The problem is that another of my jokes is that I tick the box of immortality,” he said. “I will continue until there is no one alive to lead.”

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