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Following in the footsteps of her grandfather, dad, mom and several other family members, Erin Oxhorn-Gilpin always wanted to be a teacher.
“I come from a family of teachers, so I guess you can say it’s in my genes,” she said.
Oxhorn-Gilpin ’05 (Liberal Studies/Multiple Subject Teaching Credential) started working with children when she was 14. Today, she’s a first- and second-grade teacher (she teaches a “split class,” where two age groups are combined) at Northlake Hills Elementary School in Castaic, north of Los Angeles. This October, state officials named her as one of California’s 2018 Teachers of the Year.
“There are so many great teachers out here who don’t get that recognition. The fact that it happened to me is still kind of surreal,” Oxhorn-Gilpin said.
Oxhorn-Gilpin was born and raised in Granada Hills. In 2002, she transferred to California State University, Northridge from Moorpark College and joined the Integrated Teacher Education Program (ITEP), which allowed her to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential.
ITEP is designed for students who want to pursue a career in elementary education or special education. The program offers subject matter courses leading to a degree in liberal studies, combined with field experience in teaching. Students learn from in-classroom observations and get to apply their teaching skills in a classroom environment.
“She’s joining an elite group of five former teachers of the year from our college,” said Shari Tarver-Behring, interim dean of CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education.
To receive the state honor, Oxhorn-Gilpin had to master several stages of a thorough and difficult application process. She was nominated School Teacher of the Year for the 2016-17 school year by her colleague Allison West. After that, she was selected District Teacher of the Year and then Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year. For the next step, the statewide accolade, Oxhorn-Gilpin had to write several essays, and participate in online and in-person interviews.
“A state committee also came to observe me teaching,” said Oxhorn-Gilpin, recalling one of the most stressful moments during the nomination process. “They called to say that they were moving my late afternoon visit to earlier in the day and that they would be arriving in 30 minutes. But it went great.”
“Erin was thrilled about every step she reached, but also pursued the next level with determination,” said Erin Augusta, principal of Northlake Hills Elementary School.
Out of the five teachers nominated for the state honor, Oxhorn-Gilpin is the only elementary school teacher. She loves working with younger students, and she likes to see their achievements and development into stronger readers and writers, Oxhorn-Gilpin said.
“It’s a gift that I get to work with children, and watch them grow as a person and academically as a student,” she said.
The teacher has been with most of her current students since kindergarten. “I don’t know how to part with some of them, but at some point I will have to say goodbye,” she said. “We spend so much time together. It’s always kind of sad when the school year ends.”
The pride is mutual in her classroom. “One of my girls wrote me a note with flowers on it, saying that I’m the teacher of her dreams,” Oxhorn-Gilpin said. She tells her students that Teacher of the Year is not just her title, but theirs as well. “I tell them they are my Students of the Year, and that I wouldn’t have the title without them,” Oxhorn-Gilpin said. “Everybody is part of the puzzle. A teacher is only as strong as fellow colleagues, administrators, students and the community.”
Oxhorn-Gilpin is active beyond teaching, as well. She’s part of her school’s leadership team, representing the second grade. She also works on the district’s curriculum and serves on the school site council — which consists of the principal, a group of teachers and parents, and meets bi-monthly to discuss school issues. She also mentors new teachers who just started their careers in the classroom.
“Erin is a teacher who never stops learning what’s best for her and her students,” Augusta said. “She also shares her experience with other teachers, mentoring them and helping them grow.”
Oxhorn-Gilpin credited CSUN for the valuable skills she learned about how to be a better teacher.
“The College of Education was incredibly supportive and guided me very well,” Oxhorn-Gilpin said. “When you start teaching, it’s kind of scary, because you’ve never done it before. CSUN taught me how to be a transparent and reflective educator.”
David Kretschmer, interim chair of the Department of Elementary Education, stressed the importance of a good education for teachers. “People think that anyone can teach,” he said. “But it’s not at all easy to get kids engaged, motivated and learning together.”
Oxhorn-Gilpin said she is committed to classroom teaching for the long term. “I love working with kids, so I don’t want to be out of the classroom,” she said. As she teaches her students reading, writing, math, science and social studies, the teacher said she could imagine taking on a specialist position, such as working with struggling students or serving as a reading specialist.
“I don’t ever take for granted that I get to do this job,” Oxhorn-Gilpin said. “When I think of the parents — [their children] are their most prized possession, and I’m helping them grow.”