Alumna earns top California teacher award

By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education

Pack-80PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – She hasn’t been out of college 10 years yet, but Washington State University alumna Jessica Pack is one of five teachers, out of 300,000 statewide, recently named a California teacher of the year.

“To be recognized in a state with the size and diversity of California is quite an honor,” said Mike Trevisan, dean of the WSU College of Education. “It’s a clear signal that WSU’s teacher preparation is top-notch, one that WSU can be proud of.”

Pack’s middle school principal Brad Sauer agreed.

Photos by Angela Maria Naso/La Prensa

“Jessica came in prepared, came in ready,” he said. “It was obvious that she received excellent instruction in college because she came in a step above a lot of other graduates.”

“The College of Education provided lots of hands-on experience through various practicums,” Pack said. “Professors really emphasized the importance of the teaching profession and the impact we could potentially make on the lives of children.”

Pursuing experience, passion

When she graduated in 2005, Pack was from a small Washington city and was ready to expand her world.

“I wanted an adventure, so I deliberately looked for positions out of state,” she said. She got the job teaching language arts, social studies and technology at James Workman Middle School in the Palm Springs Unified School District.

But people aren’t born teachers of the year. Becoming a great teacher requires training and experience.

“The difference between academic learning and the real world really comes down to putting theory into practice,” Pack said. “The skills can be taught, and a solid pedagogical foundation is priceless, but the art of teaching develops over time as you gain experience.”

Enthusiasm and passion contribute to that development.

“For me, anything less than a passionate approach to education isn’t enough,” she said. “The energy you bring to teaching, the decisions you make in the moment, the climate you foster with every student interaction – all of that emerges in the real world.”

Technology for the future

What also emerges is her commitment to preparing students for the real world via technology. It’s an integral part of her classroom interaction.

She has been a pilot teacher for the school’s 1:1 laptop program, where a laptop is provided for every child, and its 2:1 iPad program, where an iPad is provided for every two children. The school now is engaging in a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) program.

“Students learn to use real-world technology and apply it to real-world problems,” Sauer said. “But because they’re learning it in a structured environment, they learn how to discern what is useful information. And because they’re learning it in a structured environment, they learn how to be careful in their approach.”

“Teachers are tasked with preparing our students today for jobs that do not even exist yet,” Pack said.

Rather than simply imparting knowledge, she said, the focus of the classroom has to be teaching students to think critically, problem-solve for creative solutions and communicate effectively within a collaborative, technology-rich environment.

“Their ability to do this in a variety of technological mediums will affect how they will be perceived by the world,” she said. “Redefining learning and developing 21st century skills is why I teach without limits and passionately press forward each day in my classroom.”

Learn more about Jessica Pack in a longer version of this article at