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Miami-Dade Unveils Finalists for Teacher of The Year Award

The winning teacher will receive a new car at the ceremony next Thursday

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If you walk into Ashley Vangates’ classroom at George Washington Carver Elementary School in Coral Gables, you’d better be ready for the tidal wave of energy to hit you.

“Are you ready?” Vangates shouts, and the fourth graders respond with, “Good afternoon, Miss Vangates!”

The mood is contagious. As students answer questions, the class responds in unison: “You rock!”  

They all rock. Vangates says the enemy of learning is boredom, and she won’t let that happen under her watch.

“This has been a lifetime passion, a lifetime dream and I am fortunate to do what I love every single day, I’m fortunate for these kids to just come in here and keep me alive because they keep me energetic, they keep me young,” Vangates said.

And now for something completely different.

If you walk into Lisa Jones’ class at the COPE Center school, it’s total zen. Mood lighting, pillows and yoga mats, soft music, even a burbling Japanese fountain set the scene.

“What is mindfulness?” Jones asks her class of high school girls. 

“Mindfulness is paying attention to our thoughts and feelings with kindness and curiosity,” they answer as one.

Jones is a mental health expert at this high school for teenage moms and expectant mothers. She says teaching mindfulness relieves anxiety and refocuses her students. 

“I do what I love every day, this is not even work to me, this is part of my profession, it’s part of my love and avocation for just really being able to help young people take care of themselves and practice self-care,” Jones said.

The problem, of course, with choosing a teacher of the year is that all four nominees are outstanding, and they all have one thing in common: dedication to their craft.

Vanessa Valle teaches the lowest and highest students on the achievement ladder at Hialeah Gardens Senior High School. From remedial reading to Cambridge language arts and a dual enrollment class, she has different challenges throughout the day.

Valle makes every class, no matter the level, an engaging experience.

“Students have to get their hands on what they’re working with, they need to interact with text, they need to actually build things, put things together, think creatively because those are the moments they they do not forget,” Valle said.

For Stephen Pereira, teaching economics, government, and history the strivers and high achievers at the School for Advanced Studies is a joy.

“It’s amazing, it’s hard to quantify or put into words because the kind of reaction you see from the kids is just addictive, you just want to keep doing it, you want to see more kids get opportunities, you want to see more kids learn and just feed off their energy,” Pereira said.

Another thing these teachers have in common is the fact that their students love them.

The winning teacher will receive a new car at the ceremony next Thursday.

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