A longtime San Ramon Valley teacher was awarded as one of two winners of the county Teacher of the Year competition in a gala last month.
Diablo Vista Middle School band teacher Chavonta Edington won the award at the county level during the 50th annual Teacher of the Year award gala hosted by the Contra Costa County Office of Education on Sept. 22. Natasha Paul, who teaches at Mount Diablo High School in Concord, was the other county winner in the annual competition.
"All of the honored educators deserve our thanks. We appreciate them for their hard work but also for the guidance and relationships they have forged with students, giving them inspiration for college and careers in the future as well as the confidence to take on academic challenges they will face throughout their educational journeys," Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey said in a statement.
Both Edington and Paul now advance to represent the county at the State Teacher of the Year competition.
Edington emphasized that her advancement in the competition was the product of a team effort, heavily impacted by the role of support systems including staff in her department and the district at large. However, she said the award was also meaningful as a symbol of recognition for the value of arts and music education.
"I really enjoy having a platform to promote arts education," Edington told DanvilleSanRamon. "There's such a focus on social emotional learning, and this is something that the arts have been doing all along ... it's just nice to have that recognition and be able to make that connection with arts education and SEL (social emotional learning)."
Edington has been a band teacher at Diablo Vista in Danville for 16 years out of her 23-year teaching career. In addition to her work with young musicians in the classroom, she has served as a mentor for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District (SRVUSD) teacher induction program for first-year teachers, and as curriculum lead at Diablo Vista.
"Chavonta is a role model and leader at Diablo Vista Middle School and in our district. Her dedication and devotion to her students helps shape their future," SRVUSD Superintendent John Malloy said. "She is student-centered and an inspiration to her colleagues across the district. She creates a dynamic learning environment where students feel safe to express themselves musically and explore their talents."
While Edington's award at the county level points to some recognition for the value of arts and music educators across the state, she noted that recognizing the value of her craft also draws attention to the struggle to retain and recruit teachers in the arts -- in an underfunded field -- in a state as expensive as California.
"It's one thing to offer a music class, but if there isn't a qualified teacher ... it really highlights the need we have across the state," Edington said. "That's a need that we're seeing statewide, and it doesn't matter your zip code.
Nonetheless, Edington said that she believed the cultural tide was shifting on this issue, with recruitment and retention of educators and staff coming to the forefront of issues to address in education.
"Folks are realizing that it's one thing to support our educators, but we want to make sure that support is there emotionally and financially," Edington said. "There definitely has been a trend lately in higher-ups recognizing that and moving towards incentives like higher pay or benefits."
In addition to a shift toward increasing recognition and support for educators across the board, Edington said that the return to in-person classes and ensuing sense of normalcy were also improving conditions on the ground in her classroom.
"It's so much better," Edington said.
She noted that while personal protective equipment (PPE) remains available to students who want to use it, the lifting of requirements that went into place at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and early return to in-person learning marked the removal of a physical barrier that had made music education and band practice all the more challenging. In addition, Edington and her class have been able to return to practicing and performing indoors this year.
Despite the issue of learning loss during the pandemic having come into focus, Edington said that focusing on this and seeking to make up for lost time were not the right approaches, especially in music education.
"You can't rush learning an instrument," Edington said. "Some people talk about how do you (fix) any learning loss that could have occurred ... There's no speed walking when it comes to that but what I can do is provide my students with a learning environment where they want to learn."
Edington emphasized that seeing things from students' perspectives was all the more important as they settled back into the classroom.
"I would just always encourage our educators as they work with young people to try to remember what it was like, and if you can't remember then talk to your students about what their experience is like," Edington said.
This is a lesson that doesn't just go for fellow educators, but for aspiring young musicians seeking to turn their passions into careers, often by becoming educators themselves.
"When a student feels like they've found it, they know music is their thing, try to become invested in as many avenues as possible," Edington said. "So join ensembles that are outside your school, then if you're really feeling passionate then you become the teacher ... how can you foster that joy that you feel for the next generation."
Despite shifts in the current landscape that make learning and producing music more accessible to young people via technology, Edington said that the value of music and arts education has remained the same since she was a student, and that she expects that to remain the case as time goes on.
"I still think the premise hasn't changed over the decades and over the centuries," Edington said.