Saturday, March 17 , 2018, 7:52 pm | Partly Cloudy 55º


San Marcos High’s Desa Mandarino Named County Teacher of the Year

Longtime English teacher says she inspires students with a team-oriented approach and positive reaction to pressure

Desa Mandarino, a ninth- and 12th-grade English teacher at San Marcos High School for 16 years, has been named 2011-2012 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year. The honor confirms what her students and colleagues have known for years: Her passion for her job makes her students love learning.

Desa Mandarino
Desa Mandarino

“It fills my heart with joy daily, after class sessions when a bell rings, students thank me, they thank me for the day’s lesson,” she said. “To me, when a teenager just acknowledges and verbalizes that ... to stay after class and say thank you tells me they enjoy and appreciate learning.”

Mandarino coached varsity softball for 12 years and started focusing on teaching once she had her daughter, Gianna, who is now 4 years old. Don’t think her workload is easier — she teaches both freshmen and seniors in different levels of English, from English Learners to the highest-level honors class, with mainstream college preparatory classes in between.

“There’s incredible diversity across my day,” she said. “I’m not teaching in a bubble; I experience it all. ... There are differentiations in curriculum, but the constants are so paramount: the absolute highest expectations, positivity and relationships with the young people.”

Mandarino started utilizing her coaching strategies in the classroom, focusing on motivation, inspiring a team-oriented atmosphere and positive reaction to pressure.

“In sports, you hear you’re only good as the weakest link,” Mandarino said. “In class, you can be as strong and as great as our greatest.”

There’s no hand-raising in response to questions, so students have to be ready all the time and be actively listening. Before a test or other academic challenge, she has them repeat after her: “Pressure makes me fresher.”

She says children need the high-pressure psychologies of coaching in the classroom as much, if not more, than athletes, and she thinks the effectiveness doesn’t get enough exposure. The students embrace it, and she can get them to do things that take a great amount of confidence, such as standing to read an emotional piece of literature they’ve written out loud.

“The more you step outside of the ‘I,’ everything is about the learner,” she said. “If they’re not learning, nothing I do matters.”

She says it means nothing if students are proficient on a STAR test but aren’t reading for fulfillment, and listening is no substitution for learning a subject so well they can teach it to others.

As a younger teacher, she would think of class as a “checklist” to get through, where she now adapts to the needs of all students. If someone mentions the vocabulary assignment is too easy, she’ll bring in 10 more words a week, she said.

“Early on, I had the philosophy of trying to make it equitable and fair,” she said. “Some athletes need to be yelled at to motivate them and some need gentleness and kind words, and it’s so much like that in the classroom.”

In fall, her name will be put in the running for California Teacher of the Year. Mandarino has twice been named Teacher of the Month at San Marcos High and received the Crystal Apple Award.

Mandarino says she does what she loves every day, and “hearing the joy of learning and appreciation of learning is just the best.”

Seeing colleagues get reduction in force notices is difficult, although her seniority has spared her.

“It’s kind of like sit and wait and hope for the best, but it’s hard,” she said. “It’s hard on a lot of my colleagues, and I feel for them.”

Outside of the classroom, Mandarino is a runner who has qualified for the Boston Marathon.

Mandarino graduated from UCSB and prayed for a job in town. Sixteen years later, her accolades include being one of the first teachers for the Accelerated Academic Program with Leadership Enrichment, a mentor teacher for Beginning Teachers Support and Assessment, and a published author.

San Marcos Assistant Principal Ed Behrens said Mandarino “listens with an open mind and cares greatly about each and every one of her students. ... Her car can be found in the parking lot at all hours of day and night, including weekends.”

Elizabeth Ochi, a student, said Mandarino is a gifted teacher whose love for literature makes her a role model for every student who is lucky enough to have her.

“She was continuously pushing us to be fearless with our learning by pursuing new depths, to be lifelong learners, and she genuinely believed that with enough time and effort, we could achieve whatever we pursued,” Ochi said.

Katina Etsell, a parent, said, “You have not lived until you have experienced Mrs. Mandarino. She brings her enthusiasm and love for English, literature, and writing into her fast-paced classroom where students emerge at the end of two terms as thinkers, readers, writers and communicators.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >