By Karen Billing
The San Dieguito Union School District (SDUHSD) Teacher of the Year Samantha Greenstein truly feels like the district is her home.
Her father has been a teacher in the district since before she was born; Samantha served as the Torrey Pines High School football team water girl at age 7; she attended SDUHSD’s Oak Crest and La Costa Canyon schools; and has now come full circle to teach physical science at Earl Warren Middle School for the last six years.
“I was so inspired by the teachers I had,” Samantha said of wanting to come back to the district she grew up in to teach. “I received e-mails from former teachers when I was named Teacher of the Year. My high school biology teacher said that he couldn’t imagine a better ambassador for our district. For people who believed in me when I was in high school to still believe in me and think I have something valuable to say is really inspiring.”
Samantha found out about the honor earlier this month with a visit from SDUHSD Superintendent Ken Noah. Noah came with a bouquet of flowers, laughingly telling the school board at its April 4 meeting that many of the students mistakenly thought he was coming to propose.
Samantha’s extremely proud father Simeon Greenstein, who teaches social science at Torrey Pines High, was also in attendance. Samantha was surprised and a bit humbled by the honor.
“I feel like I’m getting paid to do my dream job as it is,” Samantha said of working in beautiful Solana Beach — where they can have surf and skate PE. She also said she loves working with amazing families, dedicated staff and great students. “That’s all reward enough. …Teachers are intrinsically motivated, all we want is for our students to learn and grow so to be recognized is a little bit weird.”
After graduating from La Costa Canyon, Greenstein went to Occidental College for her undergraduate degree and earned her teaching credential at UCLA. She taught for two years in Los Angeles before making her way back to her home district.
Science is a subject that Greenstein always liked but she admits it wasn’t always an easy subject as a student. She challenged herself by majoring in science in college.
“I liked the idea of having a lab to go to and engaging with the subject instead of just going to a lecture,” Greenstein said.
As a teacher, she went into the science field as it gave her the ability to plan those really hands-on lessons that require her students to engage with the subject matter, problem solve, collaborate. She has the ability to make the learning experience fun.
One fun activity her students do in her lab every year is an aluminum foil boat contest in which they try to build a boat that can hold the most pennies as possible without sinking, competing against their fellow students.
At the end of every year, her students launch model rockets out on the field — another crowd pleaser.
Samantha is going with the flow of how education is changing and how much of a role technology now plays in the classroom. Thanks to generous donations from the Earl Warren Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), she now has Chromebook laptops to use in her lab.
“I’ve been encouraging my students to bring their own devices so I integrate technology a lot more in my classroom,” Samantha said.
Her students have been building websites, creating videos and presentations about what they have learned this year. Using those tools helps her students build the skills they will need in high school and to be competitive in the job world. Samantha said she’s very grateful for the parent support she has.
“I never imagined the community could be so supportive,” Samantha said.
At a time when school budgets are stretched thin, she said it’s nice to see that the parents are so willing to step up and get teachers what they need.
Samantha said she really enjoys teaching middle school age students as they are right in the midst of forming their identities. She likes being there for them as they go through different experiences and as they make decisions for themselves.
“They’re trying to figure out who they are, what’s important to them and what their values are. To be a part of that process is really rewarding,” Samantha said. “To see them grow and help them reflect on who they want to be, it’s cool to be involved with that.”