What began with a nomination for the Chula Vista District Teacher of the Year award for Melissa Moreno quickly led to a major recognition at this September’s A Salute to Teachers celebration, which honors over the 20,000 educators serving San Diego County.
At the ceremony, Moreno was recognized as one of the five county teachers of the year for her work at Rosebank Elementary.
“At first the wait to hear the results was nerve-wracking, but I said ‘meh, it’s OK if I don’t win,’” she shared. “When they actually called my name I was in complete shock because I knew that this was a really great way to represent my school and my district.”
This award has been a long time in the making, as Moreno always knew she wanted to be a teacher.
Born and raised by her single mother in Chula Vista, Moreno says she always liked school and was a good student. Despite always getting good grades, her mother always pushed her to truly excel in her studies.
“She was very hard on me,” Moreno recalled. “I was the oldest of three, so she always said ‘you go to school, you go to college,’ so I was very determined to do well.”
After graduating from Hilltop High School in 2003, Moreno went on to Cal State Fullerton to major in liberal arts with the idea of fulfilling her lifelong goal of teaching. While working as an instructional assistant during her undergraduate years, Moreno found her specific calling in the world of education.
“I decided to take a special education position at a school district in Orange County and I ended up loving it; that was when I knew I wanted to be a special education teacher,” Moreno said.
After completing her master’s degree and credential program in special education at the University of San Diego, Moreno began working at Rosebank Elementary, where she has been teaching for 10 years now.
During this time, Moreno has worked with students that have mild to moderate learning disabilities in kindergarten and first grade.
“A lot of my kids have learning disabilities, autism, or language delays and my job is to get them where they need to be,” she explained. “We do a lot of the same things that their general education peers do but in a different way.”
To fulfill this learning goal, Moreno has modified the grade curriculum so it is appropriate for her students while still allowing them to gain the same access to materials as general education students. She also takes the time to get to know her pupils and understand their needs in order to help them learn in the most productive way.
Moreno works within what is known as a “self-contained classroom,” in which a smaller-sized class works with a teacher and educational assistants, a setup which makes sure the individual needs of each student are met and grants independence to each individual learner.
Everyday, she begins class by greeting her students and making sure they are ready to begin learning. This is followed by a class meeting where the students discuss their outlook for the day.
“We come in we do our ‘circle time’ and go over how we are feeling for the day,” she detailed. “We talk about how we are feeling and if there is anything that we are excited or nervous about to set us up for the day.”
Moreno then goes into an class rotation activity, in which he students break off into groups with content and lessons that match the group’s general educational needs. Some of these activities and lessons involve reading, writing, and math, with social studies and science lessons done later in the day.
Through her care and approach to teaching, Moreno makes sure her students are empowered and have someone who believes in them so that they can succeed, something she takes pride in.
“I am very proud of what I do, and I love what I do,” Moreno closed.