Both the Santa Cruz County Teacher of the Year and Runner-up Teacher of the Year for 2020 teach at eastern Santa Cruz County schools. Nominated by their peers and/or school principals, Michelle Sebert, from the Elgin School, and Nate Porter, at Patagonia Union High School, were selected out of a pool of 22 educators through an application and interview process with the Selection Committee of the Santa Cruz County School Superintendent’s Office. Both teachers were awarded cash prizes and other valuable gifts provided by the Nogales Rotary Club.
Teacher of the Year Michelle Sebert teaches middle school English to the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at Elgin School. She is the Director of Gifted Education and the District’s Testing Coordinator. She holds a dual Master’s degree in educational administration and curriculum and instruction. Her Bachelor’s degrees are in English and economics. She began teaching in 1994 and has taught middle school English for 21 years. Sebert lives in Sonoita.
Sebert believes in meeting the social and emotional needs of her students. Because the middle school teachers at Elgin School keep their students for all three years, she feels she becomes part of the kids’ families. “I’ve taught entire families of siblings throughout the years. I have very high academic standards for teaching and learning, but it’s about being able to help them where they are. And we bring humor and compassion into the room. One promise we make as a class is to ‘remind each other to breathe’.
“Over the years I have begun to teach more structured outline formats for writing, and the students have become much better writers. And I’ve learned that, just because I love a particular book, that doesn’t mean they will love it.
“Non-fiction reading and writing are key. A major project we have been working on is ‘Bias in the Media’. Students can see that if you watch a news item being covered by both CNN and FOX News, you could think you live in two different realities. So, at each grade level, we are studying issues that have recently been in the news. Eighth grade is looking at whether there is racial inequality in America. Seventh grade students are studying what motivates a person to protest. Sixth graders are studying how a teenager can change the world. Evaluating these issues carefully will develop critical thinking skills that will serve them well in high school and in life.”
Annette Koweek, Elgin middle school science teacher and school nurse, has taught with Sebert for the last 16 years. “Michelle is very energetic and teaches at a very high level,” she said. “Our students go on to do very well in high school. She helps kids who don’t read and write well make peace with grammar. She tackles great current event topics in ways that really grab the kids.”
After having been selected as Coach of the Year for the South region of the Arizona High School 1A Conference last spring, PUHS educator Nate Porter has now been recognized for his academic teaching talents as well. He was awarded Runner-up Teacher of the Year for 2020 in Santa Cruz County.
Porter has taught history and government at Patagonia Union High School for the past three years, following ten years teaching middle school social studies at the Elgin School, where he and Michelle Sebert worked closely together. He is the PUHS athletic director and basketball coach, and advisor to both student government and the National Honor Society. He holds a Master’s degree in education and is pursuing his master’s in education administration. He received his Bachelor’s degree with a double major in political science and history.
Porter started out as a Park Ranger in Denali National Park in Alaska, where he returns every (non-COVID) summer to educate visitors from kindergarteners to retirees through the Denali Education Center. Porter and his family live in Patagonia.
Porter believes that for students to thrive and learn, good teacher-student relationships are critical. “That is the basis for everything else. And it is important to make it fun,” he says. “I believe in project-based learning, which allows students to study a topic in a more engrossing way. One method I use is ‘Flip the Classroom.’ The students become the experts and teach the rest of the class about an assigned topic.
“For example, in our government class, we are getting ready to study the American judicial system. Each student will be assigned an important Supreme Court case and will research the topic, teach the class, and develop a test, all under my guidance. It’s a deep dive, and each student’s topic becomes very important to him/her.”
2017 Teacher of the Year runner-up Journee Hayes, a colleague of Porter’s, said the staff at PUHS had long hoped that Mr. Porter would come over to teach with them. “Now that he’s with us,” she said, “it’s wonderful to see the person he has become to his students and his basketball players. He’s more than a role model; he’s a confidant with whom they share their worries and their successes. He has earned their trust. And he’s so engaging – even during virtual learning, he keeps kids involved in their studies.”