Last week Erin Oxhorn-Gilpin, a first and second grade multi-subject teacher at Northlake Hills Elementary School, was one of five teachers throughout the state selected as a 2018 California Teacher of the Year.
But long before she received the statewide honor, the Northlake Hills Elementary teacher was revered by her colleagues, celebrated by her students and loved by her community for her dedication to her students and passion for education.
“Erin truly, truly exemplifies what a teacher is and why the kids love coming to school,” fellow Northlake Hills Elementary Teacher Jennifer Flores said at a school-wide celebration for Oxhorn-Gilpin. “I’m constantly learning from her. It’s such a pleasure to work with her and she truly is a blessing to this school and a blessing to her students.”
Through her hands-on lessons, differentiated teaching methods and individualized approach to students, Oxhorn-Gilpin consistently makes learning fun for her elementary-aged students while also sharing her idea of a “family” both in and out of her classroom.
“I don’t ever take for granted that I get to do this job, teaching is a privilege,” Oxhorn-Gilpin said. “I want school to feel like an extension of home and family.”
Passion for Teaching
From a young age Oxhorn-Gilpin knew she wanted to become an elementary school teacher.
“I grew up with a lot of teachers in my family and I’ve always known it was there,” she said. “I like little ones and watching them learn how to read and write. It’s pretty amazing that they start the year not really knowing how to do that or not being proficient and then it just happens that year. It’s really fun to be a part of.”
Oxhorn-Gilpin found her home in the Castaic Union School District more than 12 years ago when she filled in as a substitute teacher for her sister at Northlake Hills Elementary School. The following year she was hired by the district to teach full time.
Over the years, she has taught kindergarten, first grade, second grade and now a first grade and second grade split.
Because she has moved between different grade levels, Oxhorn-Gilpin has had the opportunity to teach many of the same students for multiple years.
“I think that I’ve been kind of lucky that, with about half of my class, I have been their teacher since kindergarten,” she said. “I’ve really been able to know them and their families and develop that connection.”
Teaching many of the same students each year also helped her differentiate classroom lessons by challenging those who need an extra push and providing one-on-one time with those who need extra enrichment and support.
“I really enjoy watching them push themselves and really take pride in their learning and their role as a student,” Oxhorn-Gilpin said. “It’s a sense of maturing and understanding the process of learning.”
In addition to differentiation, Oxhorn-Gilpin regularly incorporates technology, like Chromebooks, into the classroom while also bringing in messy and hands-on projects.
However, one of Oxhorn-Gilpin’s favorite parts of teaching is watching her students, of all levels, become readers.
“I know that is a tool they will use for forever now and I got to be there and be a part of that and that’s a really big gift,” she said. “It’s like parents when you have a baby and you want to see those first steps. It’s those milestone and I get to be a part of that milestone with them and it’s huge.”
The CUSD “Family”
Oxhorn-Gilpin also works to create an environment that feels like a family so students know they are cared for and that they matter.
“It’s true to my heart that I think students will be more successful if it’s somebody they want to learn from so for me it kind of goes back to that whole idea of family and building those relationships with my students and holding them accountable.”
The idea of “family” extends beyond the classroom for Oxhorn-Gilpin; it also is seen in the relationships and connections formed in the Castaic District and throughout the Castaic community.
“I definitely think that Castaic is very united and it’s just that small town feeling and it’s being incredibly supportive of one another and it really stems from that,” she said. “You feel you have that support system and you do have that sense of family.”
Teacher of the Year
With rounds of interviews, countless essays and several classroom visits, the process to become a State Teacher of the Year took nearly a year to achieve.
“I didn’t understand the process and what it entailed,” Oxhron-Gilpin said. “It’s very rigorous and even when [State Superintendent of Public Instruction] Tom Torlakson called me he said he is really proud because they have one of the most rigorous processes for State Teacher of the Year.”
During this demanding process, Oxhorn-Gilpin was evaluated for her rapport with students, classroom environment, presentation skills and teaching techniques.
She also answered essay prompts and interview questions about her teaching philosophy, connection with the community, her classroom differentiation and her message as teacher of the year.
Throughout the experience, Oxhorn-Gilpin had to keep a lot of the news to herself until it was released by county and state officials.
“It’s kind of been hard because there have been all these secrets. ,” Oxhorn-Gilpin said. “It’s kind of been this quiet celebration with myself and my principal really. What’s so exciting now is everybody knows.”
As the only elementary school teacher selected as a 2018 State Teacher of the Year, Oxhorn-Gilpin said she feels honored to represent not only her district, but also her fellow teachers.
“When you look at the finalists there’s not many elementary overall and so it feels like a big deal, it feels big,” she said. “I think Castaic is so small and it’s such an honor to be able to represent so many great teachers because there are so many great teachers that don’t get recognized.”
And most importantly, Oxhorn-Gilpin shares the recognition with her students, who are the reason she works so hard every day.
“Your most challenging student and your student needs to be challenged the most they all bring something to the table as a teacher, they all help you grow and just reflect,” she said. “It’s huge honor to be able to represent all of them and it still blows my mind because Castaic is so small.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_