By Karen Billing
Sycamore Ridge School teacher Debbie Hanna was named the Del Mar Union School District teacher of the year and just in the nick of time — Hanna will retire this week after 36 years with the district.
“I’m going to miss the children, the energy of the school. I like coming to school and pumping them up when they’re sleepy in the morning. I’ll have to recreate that somehow.”
Hanna said her time within the district has been “paradise," a place where the focus remains on what is right for the students, the classroom kept protected from any district dramas.
As she has been at Sycamore Ridge since it’s opened, she feels a strong connection to it.
“It’s one of the bigger buildings in the district but there’s a small population here because we’re waiting for the growth to happen,” Hanna said. “We have great kids and parents.”
Principal Emily Morris has worked with Hanna for a long time, as a fellow teacher and then as her assistant principal and principal.
“Debbie is without a doubt one of the most dedicated, caring, open and collaborative educators that I have had the pleasure of knowing,” Morris said. “Mrs. Hanna is a diamond in a treasure chest of teacher gems, I have had the fortune to work with in this district and at Sycamore Ridge School. Although Debbie will be missed, we are happy she will be relaxing and enjoying life!”
Hanna has been with the district since 1976, a teacher for 22 years and an instructional aide for 14. Her first position was at Del Mar Hills, teaching the third grade. She did a nine-year stint in the fourth grade but has spent most of her career in third grade, which she has taught at Sycamore Ridge since 2005.
Hanna has enjoyed her time in the third grade.
“What I really liked was the space unit because it’s quite interesting and we do a musical play that goes along with it, that’s great fun,” Hanna said.
Third-graders, she said, come in still learning how to read for meaning and she likes how by the time they leave for fourth grade they are capable of reading passages and truly understanding, making connections and boosting their vocabulary.
“They really grow,” Hanna said, noting not just physically but in their attention spans, how they can concentrate for longer lessons.
As a teacher, Hanna said it’s her job to notice when those attention spans bulge and push them to learn and develop.
Hanna said what she thinks makes her a special teacher is her sense of humor, an answer her students obviously agreed with because they immediately started to giggle. Not a teacher who wastes any educational opportunity, Hanna had gathered her third graders around her last week to witness how a reporter does her job.
“Fractions can be quite wonderful if you make it a little more fun, you can drone on and or they’ll lay their heads don and go to sleep,” Hanna said.
Hanna specializes in the silly — making silly faces or silly words to make lessons fun.
Winning teacher of the year was a nice way to cap a long career and Hanna said it came as a total surprise when Superintendent James Peabody came into the teacher’s lounge with a huge bouquet of flowers one day.
She enjoyed the opportunity to be on the field at a Padres game with her fellow San Diego County teachers of the year. She said she even gave first baseman Jorge Cantú a pat on the back.
Hanna’s first stop of her retirement is Hawaii, she and her husband are headed there the day after school gets out on June 18.
With her newly acquired spare time, Hanna plans to join the San Elijo Lagoon Conservatory and become a docent. She also wants to look at volunteer opportunities in San Diego, working at schools with underpriveledged youth.
So in a sense, she’ll never really stop teaching, she’ll just be sharing her knowledge and experience with a bigger classroom.