Teachers to Learn From the Best, CLU Professor Says


Think of gathering together the best of the best to learn the secrets of their success.

That is what Linda Organ, a Cal Lutheran University education professor, has been doing for the last eight months. And she is ready to release her results to the public April 30 with the aim of helping new teachers get started and veteran teachers who may want new ideas.

Backed by a modest grant from the biotechnology company Amgen, Organ has tracked similarities of the 30 teachers in Ventura County and the Las Virgenes Unified School District who have won Amgen’s Teachers of Excellence awards over the last six years. Based on community nominations, the Thousand Oaks company gives $10,000 awards to five teachers each year.

A panel of three independent judges chooses the five winners each year by reviewing nominating letters from parents, teachers, administrators, students and others. This year’s winners will be announced April 23.


Organ, a longtime teacher who holds a doctorate and studies creative thinking, proposed the study because she trains teachers and wants to help them become winners.


After interviewing each of the 30 winners--16 men and 14 women--and asking them to fill out a survey, she found this: Most of the teachers said they were passionate, creative, caring, enthusiastic, prepared, funny and flexible.

“I was warmed to find this,” Organ said. “You’d think these things are obvious, but they’re not. . . . The degree of passion and time they spend, that was overwhelming.”


Though he was fascinated with the idea of the study, Colina Middle School counselor Sam Kane, who won Amgen’s award in 1994, said it is almost impossible to describe in words what makes an excellent teacher.

The closest he could do was compare the artistry of teaching to that of a conductor who keeps an orchestra together.

“From the time the bell rings to when the period ends, kids should be playing and participating in class with no idle time,” he said.

In addition to having fun and caring about their students, a majority of the teachers also responded that they were demanding in class.


“They’re not loved just because they’re warm and kind,” Organ said. “But they stretch kids. Kids like to work hard.”


On a hunch, Organ decided to ask teachers if they had overcome personal struggles in their lives--she found out that many had.

“I had this hypothesis that these exceptional people probably had to overcome something,” Organ said. “I wanted to know where they got their energy from.”


Those hardships ranged from poor self-esteem to verbal or emotional abuse to illness. Only three teachers said they lived charmed lives, with supportive parents and financial stability.

Among the conclusions of Organ’s survey is that teachers are reaching out to parents and students in ways that they never have before.

More than half of the teachers said they shared themselves with children, as well as asking their students about themselves. Many of the teachers watch their students play sports or perform in plays after school to get to know them better.



Moorpark High School history teacher and academic decathlon coach Larry Jones, who won the award in 1995, said he tries to attend his students’ extracurricular activities as another way to reach out to them. Being there for kids, just to lean on, is another aspect that Jones finds crucial to his work.

“They tell us, don’t ever touch the kids,” he said. “But I hug them, or give them a high-five in the hall or hold a hand. That’s how you can connect with a person.” In addition, many of the teachers said they communicate frequently with parents, letting them know what their child is doing in school.

“Today’s teachers are real people,” Organ said. “That’s different than the image of teachers in the 1950s. I don’t remember my teachers being caring and communicative like that.”



Teachers of Excellence Award

The public is invited to meet winners of Amgen’s “Teachers of Excellence” award and hear results of Linda Organ’s study on April 30 from 4 to 6:30 p.m. The event is free and will be held in the Nelson Room at Cal Lutheran University, 60 West Olsen Road. Call Organ for information at 373-6842.

Teachers of Excellence award winners:



* Debra Bereki, Fillmore High School, science and geology

* Bruce Kanegai, Simi Valley High School, art

* Dale Larson, Dos Caminos Elementary School, sixth grade

* Doug Ruby, Los Nogales Elementary School, fifth grade


* Jon Sand, Aspen Elementary School, first grade and literacy mentor


* Mary “Coo” Aguirre, McKevett Elementary School, first grade

* Trish Doerr, Meadows Elementary School, third and fourth grades


* Shelly Fletcher, Los Cerritos Middle School, sixth through eighth grades, yearbook and drama

* Randy Porter, Newbury Park High School, special education

* Kristin Simmons, Los Nogales Elementary School, sixth grade



* Keith Barker, Royal High School, math and physics

* Judy Bowers, Meadow Elementary School, first grade

* Linda Brug, Ventura High School, AP history and peer counselor

* Janet Cooper, Banyan Elementary School, fourth grade


* Larry Jones, Moorpark High School, world history and academic decathlon coach


* Carol Alexander, Redwood Middle School, music

* Marilyn Bjork, Los Altos Middle School, theater and public speaking


* Sam Kane, Colina Middle School, counselor

* Gregg Norberg, Buena High School, world history

* Jeneen Vetrovec, Weathersfield Elementary School, first grade



* Nancy Mungia-Bowman, Westlake High School, anatomy and physiology

* Jack Cheney, Camarillo State Hospital, art therapist

* George Hees, Lupin Hills Elementary School, fourth grade

* Willis Naysmith, Camarillo Heights School, sixth grade


* Carol Phillips, Weathersfield Elementary School, English and social studies


* Carol Arthington, Dos Caminos Elementary School, kindergarten

* Bryan Bowman, Blanche Reynolds Elementary School, special education


* Mark Cantor, Willow Elementary School, kindergarten

* Al Nubling, Banyan Elementary School, fifth grade

* Yvonne Peck, Frontier High School, English