UNIVERSAL CITY — Teachers from Burbank and Glendale celebrated their teacher of the year awards Monday at the Universal Hilton.
Melissa Ann Pamperin, a fifth-grade teacher at Miller Elementary School in Burbank, and Roxanne O’Rourke, a kindergarten teacher at Mann Elementary School in Glendale, were named teachers of the year for the respective districts.
Teachers are nominated by school, and go through district vetting before a county, state and national competition.
“It was a surprise,” said Pamperin, who’s in her sixth year teaching and her second year at Miller. “It meant a lot to me that I’d been at Miller one year and they chose to nominate me for the district.”
Pamperin earned her award through hard work and determination, Miller Principal Judy Hession said. Pamperin had the day off Monday, but arrived at school before Monday’s ceremony so she could have one-on-one meetings with her students.
“She’s so good at personalizing … whatever each kid needs,” Hession said. “She’s always working to inspire.”
Bringing dice and playing cards in the classroom helps make math lessons more accessible, said Pamperin, who also declined to share her age, as that’s part of an upcoming math assignment.
“They have to calculate it using the year and counting backwards,” she said. “It’s really tough for fifth-graders.”
Pamperin also regularly leaves handwritten notes in students’ desks to encourage and motivate, she said.
A student’s pet died, and he got a note from Pamperin offering condolences, a day off and a personal anecdote about her pets. When a student’s preparation did not match her outcome on an assignment, Pamperin wrote to remind her that effort can be more important than the outcome.
Pamperin uses dice and playing cards to make math lessons come alive, but O’Rourke, in her 12th year teaching, said she relies on songs and dances to help her kindergartners understand letters and sounds.
Kindergartners must be able to read and write before first grade, a challenge when 4- and 5-year-olds are of wildly different abilities, Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said.
“She’s part of a phenomenal staff that’s seen tremendous growth in the last five years,” said Sheehan, who’s observed O’Rourke teach. “It’s part of a great foundation that begins in kindergarten.”
Her students mark their progress on a chart of letters and sounds that they color when they master their ABCs and more.
“It holds the kids accountable,” she said. “I do believe in making learning as fun as possible.”
And there are few things that make her students more excited than “Who Let the Letters Out,” a song-spoof of the one-hit wonder “Who Let the Dogs Out.”
“They kids absolutely love it,” O’Rourke said.
As award winners and their families took their seats at the Universal Hilton, the 34-year-old began singing.
“Who let the As out? A, A-A-A.”