Alumna Lauren Gómez (B.A. Spanish ’94) was named a California Teacher of the Year.

This award “recognizes exemplary teachers who best represent all of California’s teachers and symbolize the profession’s contributions to quality education,” according to the California Department of Education’s website. This year, only five teachers were awarded.

Gómez is a third-grade teacher at Glenn L. Martin Elementary School in Santa Ana, California. She has been an educator for over 25 years.

Below, Gómez shares her thoughts on the profession; her commitment to making a difference in her school, district and community; and appreciation for her time at UCI.

Being a schoolteacher is a labor of love. Being a schoolteacher during a pandemic is a herculean labor of love. Congratulations on being named a California Teacher of the Year. When did you decide to become a teacher, and how did you know that’s what you wanted to do?

In high school, initially, I thought I wanted to teach Spanish to high school students, but when I worked as an elementary aide, I realized how much I enjoyed working with younger students. I was fascinated by their natural, unfiltered curiosity and found it greatly rewarding when they had “aha!” moments. I was deeply touched by my French teacher in high school. She had a way of making us feel seen, and that’s what I wanted to do for my students.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I treasure my relationships with students and really enjoy watching them grow. My educational plan for every student is to meet them where they are and enrich their experiences with leadership opportunities, innovative and meaningful lessons, enrichment activities, science experiments, monthly presentations, and exposure to various art media to express themselves and capture their learning.

What are you most proud of as a teacher?

Bringing Academic Family Nights to Martin Elementary, which combine my love for students as leaders, family involvement, academic rigor and experiences that create memories. We realized we did not have enough adults to oversee the games for the first math event. The solution to this is my favorite part: We trained our students to lead the different activities with their parents. They took a copy of the game and materials and practiced at home, focusing on presentation skills and their ability to show how to play. Students beamed with excitement. The great success of that first Family Math Night was largely due to students leading the games. We now host hundreds of delighted children and parents at each of our Family Nights.

How did UCI prepare you for success as a teacher, and would you recommend it to those who are pursuing a teaching career?

I am very proud of the educational experience I had at UCI. It was a time of self-discovery, learning through our courses and the connections I made with people. Being part of a small department provided me with a very unique opportunity. As a first-generation college graduate, I found it extremely helpful and reassuring to participate in the Summer Bridge Program. It gave me a level of confidence that I might not have had otherwise. One thing I always enjoyed is that there was a strong sense of support from professors and advisers. They wanted us to succeed. I would definitely recommend UCI.

With reporting by Pat Harriman