Everyone can remember that favorite teacher. Whether they are in school or have been out for years, people still smile when they recall that one special teacher.
For many members of this community, Ramona High School’s Robin Brainard is that memorable educator.
Now, her dedication, energy, and passion have earned her the district’s nomination for the California League of High School’s Teacher of the Year Award.
Brainard has been teaching for 21 years, 16 of those at RHS. She teaches U.S. history and Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. history and also coaches the softball team. But, her commitments definitely don’t stop there.
“Robin is part of the heart of our school,” said Assistant Principal Dr. Kathryn Gunderson. “She supports powerful teaching and learning through her service as a BTSA provider, a master teacher, and a grader of AP exams. Robin is co-author of our Distinguished School application and accreditation self-study, and present at numerous sporting events and performances, cheering her students and colleagues.
“Her passion for excellence is evident in her 20-plus years as a softball coach, including a CIF championship. Robin is also the unofficial ASB ‘sub’.”
Growing up, Brainard had always wanted to be a teacher, but her high school counselor talked her out of it.
“They said I was too smart, the pay was bad and because of Prop. 13 I would never get a job, especially teaching social science, but in college I realized it was what I wanted to do,” she said. “I believe it was what I was meant to do, that and coach.”
Her colleagues and students, past and present, agree.
“She always does whatever it takes to make sure that her colleagues and students have the best opportunity for success,” said fellow social science teacher Steve Koch. “ She is an outstanding teacher whose influence extends way beyond her classroom.”
“Coach Brainard is a good coach,” said sophomore Cassie Ford. “She cares wholeheartedly for every one of her players, and she always wants to make sure that all of us are doing well. Our entire team is able to joke around with her and have fun all the time.”
“Robin’s passion is evident in her work as a professional,” said RHS Principal Tony Newman. “She constantly reflects on her work and strives to continue to improve as an educator. Because of her drive and passion for learning, she has an extraordinary ability to engage students in their own learning.
“She is truly dedicated to the success of all students at RHS.”
While Brainard is honored to be nominated, she doesn’t like to be the center of attention.
“Most of the time I don’t think about being honored, just about doing the best job I can and continuing to become a better teacher,” she said. “So the honors are always a surprise.”
This response is characteristic of Brainard, those who know her agree. Even though she is ever-present and involved, she isn’t there for show. She cares about what she is doing and she fights to make sure her colleagues and students are taken care of to the best of her ability.
“My No. 1 hope is that the students are better prepared for the next level of education or life once they have had my class,” she said. “I hope they learn some skills that they will take on to the next step of their life. As a social science teacher, I stress exercising their civic duty — voting! But ultimately, if they are better thinkers, better writers, better speakers or better citizens when they leave my class, that is just as important, if not more, than remembering names and dates in history.”
Over the course of her years at RHS, Brainard is growing and adapting. She understands the needs of her changing students, but her high expectations never change. She returns assignments within 72 hours and offers multiple opportunities for students to successfully meet course standards.
She uses streaming video, PowerPoint and other innovative teaching techniques to engage students in their own learning. She also maintains her course Web sites, allowing students and parents to stay current in her class.
“Robin exemplifies educational excellence,” said Gunderson, who went on to list just some of what Brainard has accomplished over the years from being department chair for eight years to being a member of the Teacher Leadership Council.
The vice principal stressed that Brainard highly values collaborative relationships with her peers, sharing lesson plans and presentations. She also was key in the process of aligning history courses to incorporate state frameworks and standards, to name a few things.
When asked about Ms. Brainard, students always respond with a smile. She is beloved on the RHS campus. She reaches a hand out to anyone in need and demonstrates a love for her craft every day.
“Her connections to students are diverse and long lasting, whether as a key teacher for English learners or a coach throughout the community for baseball and softball,” said Gunderson. “Robin is a wonderful role model for our youth: she learned to surf as an adult, participates in fun faculty activities, and shares her own travels to Alaska, California coast, and Washington, D.C.”
There are 10 finalists nominated from each region in California. Each region chooses one nominee for the finals. Only one will win the title of CLHS Educator of the Year.
The award will be given at the CLHS annual conference in January. Win or lose, Brainard probably won’t notice. She will be too busy making every day a day that counts for students.