2016 Orange County Teacher of the Year: Dr. Karah Street

Karah Street and Al MijaresIf you’ve been following the OCDE Newsroom this morning you know that the Orange County Department of Education is announcing the county’s 2016 Teachers of the Year today.

The “prize patrol” includes OCDE administrators and sponsors who are handing out prizes including Disney park passes, and SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union is presenting each winner with a $500 check. Each teacher will also receive a $15,000 prize from the Dr. James Hines Foundation, established by OC residents Bill and Sue Gross, at a dinner gala in November at the Disneyland Hotel.

We now bring you the final winner, the community college Teacher of the Year, Dr. Karah Street.

Teacher Karah StreetIn an administrative building on the campus of Saddleback College, county Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares surprised the fifth and final Orange County Teacher of the Year, Dr. Karah Street.

Dr. Street had been in a meeting with Saddleback President Dr. Tod Burnett and Dean Chris McDonald as a small crowd gathered quietly in the lobby. When she emerged, she was greeted by Dr. Mijares, who handed over the last Golden Apple.

“If we had more people like you, we’d be even farther along than we are today,” the superintendent said.

Dr. Street described the moment as “truly overwhelming.”

“That’s not why I do what I do, to be recognized,” she said moments later. “I love to do it.”

As a professor of biological sciences at Saddleback College in the South Orange County Community College District, Dr Street says getting students to open their science textbooks is the first challenge, and she’s humble enough to recognize that students will retain only a fraction of the science content they learn in her class.

Which is perhaps why she references the work of psychologist Lev Vygotsky and describes her “real” role as an educator to be “a more knowledgeable other.” For Dr. Street, that means being a mentor who shares her personal experiences, perspectives and knowledge to impart the life skills that she hopes her students will carry for the rest of their lives — while guiding their learning of science.

And she finds that those life lessons are what affect the young adults she teaches the most.

After Dr. Street shared the story of her transition from a successful scientist to a teacher, a student who was struggling to find a career direction put it this way: “Your vulnerability was not only inspiring, but it was also a reminder that we are not alone. You care and we notice.”