Elizabeth Dominguez, a kindergarten teacher at Vermont Avenue Elementary, never expected to earn the top prize of $500 at the 2016 "Read On" Teacher Salute Award ceremony during the L.A. Times Festival of Books.
"It was an honor simply to have been nominated," said Dominguez, of Los Angeles, who was among five teachers honored during the April 9 festival at the University of Southern California. "I am very grateful for this recognition because it validates the hard work and commitment I have towards my students, my school and my community."
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Dominguez attended schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District in the midcity area.
"My parents are Mexican immigrants and always stressed the importance of education, something they were unable to obtain due to poverty," said Dominguez, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg. Maryland.
Her desire to become an educator was inspired at 14 years old when she volunteered at her church as a Sunday school teacher.
"At that time, I realized being in a classroom and working with children was something I enjoyed doing," Dominguez said. "Based on that experience I had no doubt that I wanted to be a teacher."
Over the years, she's faced many challenges, including being able to meet the diverse needs of her students.
"Children are not fit for a one-size-fits all model and they come to me with a variety of challenges such as learning disabilities, behavior problems and even homelessness," she said. "It's my job not only to find my students the resources they need, but also to have empathy and compassion for their particular situation. Planning and developing lessons to address the specific learning needs of my students is something I must do on a daily basis."
Today, she views her profession as much more than just a job.
"I believe teaching is a calling; teachers need to love what they do and genuinely care for their students," Dominguez said.
Children are more receptive when they know their teacher cares about not just their learning, but overall well-being, she continued.
"It is so satisfying to work with kindergarteners and see how some struggle to hold a pencil at the beginning of the year and by the end these same students are writing sentences independently," Dominguez said. "I have the huge responsibility of setting the foundation that will ensure their success for the coming years."
Her ultimate goal as an educator is to inspire children to reach their full potential and to feel successful within their own unique talents.
"I want them to develop a joy for learning," Dominguez said.
Her plans for now are to continue working in the classroom and inspiring young minds.
"I feel I can make the biggest impact working directly with children," Dominguez said. "I plan to pursue my National Board Certification starting next year and continue working with young children for as long as I can."
Looking back on her vocation and all that she's achieved in the classroom, Dominguez said her greatest accomplishment by far was to be honored during the Teacher's Salute at USC.
"Teaching is a highly rewarding profession and accomplishments don't always come in the form of a certificate," she said. "To see my students eyes light up when they finally understand something, to see them smile and light up at their successes, and to have parents thank me for my efforts is what motivates me to strive to be a better teacher every day."