Gregory Wolf — a Santa Ynez Valley Union High School social science teacher in the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District — is the 2024 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year. On Oct. 16, he was named the 2024 California Teacher of the Year, the highest state recognition a teacher can earn.
Elesa Carlson, the drama director and an art teacher at Righetti High School in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, will be recognized as the 2024 Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year.
The 2024 distinguished mentors to be recognized are Victoria Aguirre of Hollister School in the Goleta Union School District, Natalie Durbin of Liberty School in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, and Tiffany Gonzales of Peabody Charter School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
The 2024 distinguished new educators to be honored are Ryan Helsel of Goleta Valley Junior High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, Sammi Lambert of San Marcos High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and Julio Molina of Delta High School in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District.
The 10th annual presentation will be livestreamed at 5 p.m. Nov. 4 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orwewJn9SQE.
Noozhawk: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Julio Molina: I became a teacher because of the profound influence educators had on my own journey.
I aim to pay forward the kindness shown to me by my teachers, coaches, guidance counselors and mentors. Their support and guidance added value to my life and shaped a path through a career as an electrical engineer, a collegiate volleyball coach and, finally, a high school science teacher.
Noozhawk: How long have you been teaching?
JM: I am currently in my third year of teaching high school science. Before coming to Delta High School, I spent 12 years coaching women’s volleyball at Allan Hancock College.
Noozhawk: What is your favorite subject or lesson plan to teach your students?
JM: My favorite subject or lesson plan is whatever I am teaching that day.
Excitement is contagious and I love what I do. I want to ensure my students feel that passion.
One of the best pieces of advice I have received from my colleague, Juan Sanches, came on my first day of teaching. Juan said, “Bring your passion.” And I did.
Juan’s advice speaks to the question: How can we expect our students to buy into what we are doing, if we don’t buy into it ourselves?
Noozhawk: What is your favorite part of being a teacher?
JM: Witnessing the little (and not so little) a-ha moments that happen daily with my students.
The moment of sudden insight or discovery that leads to an avalanche of connections and learning is very fulfilling.
The growth, both academic and emotional, that my students show on a daily basis let me know that I am accomplishing my goal.
Noozhawk: What are the challenges of your job?
JM: The challenges of my job are ensuring my teaching remains relevant, engaging and effective.
I firmly believe that every student can learn, and I recognize that each student is unique with unique learning needs.
Furthermore, education is a dynamic field that is constantly evolving with new research, pedagogical approaches and technological advancements. I need to ensure that my teaching remains relevant and responsive to the diverse needs of my students by continuing to actively seek out learning opportunities, applying new skills in the classroom and reflecting on my practice.
If I want my students to be lifelong learners, then I need to model what a lifelong learner looks like.
The belief that all students can learn forms the foundation of my teaching practice, as it fuels my commitment to providing an inclusive and equitable learning environment.
By creating a classroom culture that values and celebrates diversity, my goal is to foster a love of learning and empower my students to engage in their own lives to reach their full potential.
The only way I accomplish this goal is to keep growing as a human being and an educator, and that type of growth takes work.
Noozhawk: What are you most looking forward to this school year?
JM: I most look forward to strengthening and maintaining current relationships, cultivating new ones, and witnessing the growth possible in an environment built to add value to people like the one at Delta High School.
Noozhawk: Who are your mentors?
JM: It takes a village so I have many mentors. The entire staff at Delta High School, my colleagues on the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) committee, my wife (a school administrator in a different district), and my teacher induction program mentor, Catherine Carpenter.
Noozhawk: Who are the people in your life and work environment who support you every day?
JM: The people in my life and work environment who support me every day are my wife, my mother- and father-in-law, my brother-in-law, my children, and the staff at Delta High School.
Noozhawk: How does it feel to be honored as part of the Salute to Teachers?
JM: It feels very humbling to be honored as part of the Salute to Teachers. I am a product of some great people who decided I was worth adding value to. I am grateful to all of them.