Earlier this year, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) teacher Isela Lieber was one of five teachers named a 2017 California Teacher of the Year.
“I was very honored and very humbled,” Lieber said. “I was nominated by one of my students.”
The Saugus resident has spent 18 years as both an administrator and teacher in the district. Currently, Lieber teaches English, English as a Second Language (SDL) and ESL science to students at James Monroe High School in North Hills.
As an immigrant herself, Lieber uses her own story as inspiration and motivation for her students.
She came to the United States with a seventh-grade reading level and little knowledge of English before she became the first in her family to earn a high school diploma, go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree.
“I’m an immigrant myself and English learner and I have that way to motivate them,” she said. “I can relate to my students on a deeper level.”
Chris Rosas, principal of James Monroe High School, said Lieber leads by example both in and out of the classroom to encourage her students to think about their futures.
“Her example to our students is living proof of a strong commitment to student achievement,” Rosas said. “She models effective teaching strategies and holds all staff and students to high standards with their classroom practices.”’
At James Monroe High School, Lieber also leads a club called SUCCEED, which helps first-generation high school students get into college and navigate the application and financial aid processes.
“It’s about empowering the students,” she said. “When application time comes up we make sure everyone has applied and help them with the applications and the AB 540 and make phone calls for them.”
Oftentimes, former students return to the club to help their classmates through the application process and offer advice to high school seniors.
Lieber also regularly takes her students to her alma mater, California State University at Northridge, to show them the college and have them participate in events on campus.
“I took my students to Cal State for a young Latina forum on STEM, where there is a gap of women in the field,” she said. “After, two came up to me and said they were thinking about engineering and decided they wanted to be an engineer.”
One day, Lieber hopes to become a principal; however, right now she feels that she makes more of a difference in the classroom by actively engaging her students and working with them every day.
“I feel really happy here. I always wanted to be a principal, but now I think I have more access to the students in the classroom,” she said. “When you’re a principal you don’t have that one-on-one time to talk to students every day.”
Teacher of the Year Reflections
In mid-February, Lieber along with her four fellow California Teachers of the Year—Yun “Jenny” Tzu Anderson, Shaun S. Bunn, Megan Gross and Corinne Traynor—were honored at a gala in Sacramento.
“These inspiring and innovative teachers enrich the lives of our students while helping them to succeed in 21st century careers and college,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement. “These teachers represent the best of their profession and serve as great examples.”
Throughout the year, the team of Teachers of the Year have presented to schools and given speeches all across the state.
“We have been getting to know each other and have an email group and texting group,” Lieber said.
On Monday, Lieber said she will be honored with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Community Hero Award before their game against the San Francisco Giants.
And this summer, Lieber will travel to Japan with her four fellow Teachers of the Year to participate in a cultural exchange with the country.
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