Ron Eick has become the first instructor at American Canyon High School to win Napa County Teacher of the Year.
“To be a finalist is an honor,” said Eick last Wednesday at a ceremony held at Riverbend Plaza at the Historic Napa Mill. “But to win, it’s amazing.”
Eick, who teaches mathematics, was one of four finalists for Teacher of the Year, orchestrated by the Napa County Office of Education.
The other finalists were Chloe Faris and Jessica Mautner from Snow Elementary School and Christie Wolf from New Technology High School.
Each finalist received a $500 check from Napa Noon Rotary Club and a bottle of wine. Eick received an additional check for $1,000 from Schools Financial Credit Union.
There were 181 nominees for Teacher of the Year from across the Napa Valley.
A committee consisting of representatives from NCOE, the Napa Valley Unified School District, St. Helena Unified School District, the Napa Valley Education Foundation and NapaLearns screened applicants and decided the winner.
After announcing Eick had won, county Superintendent Barbara Nemko said: “His passion in life is that we all can think that math can be fun, which is a tough mountain to climb.”
Eick acknowledged that when he meets people and tells them he teaches math, they often say to him: “Bless you. I hated math,” he said.
“It makes me cringe” that there is a “stigma in society where people dislike math so much,” he said.
But he tells his students: “There’s so much beauty to it if you really just take your time and focus on it.”
Eick, 41, has been teaching for about 10 years. He previously worked in banking and served four years in the U.S. Air Force. A native of Chicago, the military brought him to California, where he was stationed at Travis Air Force Base.
“The other jobs I’ve had, they were good jobs, but they didn’t really give me a sense of meaning,” he said.
“I love teaching. I love the challenge of it. It constantly keeps me moving and growing as a person,” said Eick. “You’re also learning as you’re teaching. It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.”
Eick doesn’t have children of his own. But, he says, he thinks of his students as his family.
“When they win awards, I feel like it’s my own kid,” he said. “I get very emotional because of that.”
Recently, Eick recommended one of his students for a $4,000 math scholarship, and he won it. Eick was “overcome” by the news. “It was like my own son won the honor, he said.
His love of math goes back to his own high school years when he was in the math club and tutored other kids in the subject.
“I’ve always loved solving problems,” he said. “That satisfaction when you get to the right answer.”
“Even to this day when I’m bored, I’ll open up a math book and work a math problem,” Eick said. “I share that nerdiness with my students all the time.”
One thing Eick shares with the other finalists for Teacher of the Year is a passion for helping and working with kids.
“What I love the most is the relationships I build with the students,” said Mautner, 43, who teaches first grade at Snow. “It’s a magical time when they realize they can open up this world of literacy” and get exposed to the “excitement” of reading and writing.
Many of her students come from low-income families and have “a really challenging background.”
“Poverty is a challenge” at Snow, she said. “We don’t know what they’re facing at home.”
In addition to helping kids learn, Mautner said she keeps snacks in her classroom because she can’t always be certain every student has eaten before coming to school.
“I always make sure to get them breakfast, make sure they have everything they need so they can get their learning done,” she said.
Her colleague at Snow and fellow finalist, Faris, 45, has been there for only a year after spending the previous four years at Canyon Oaks Elementary School as an assistant principal.
Budget cuts forced her back into the classroom, she said. But she has no regrets over the move.
“I love it,” said Faris, who has been in education for 18 years and previously taught at Napa Junction and McPherson elementary schools. “I’m having a blast.”
After learning she would be a teacher again, Faris said she “set really high goals for myself. I was really nervous.”
“I just wanted to blow the doors off and have a fabulous year, and we have,” said Faris, who enjoys working with kids “who are really struggling in either math or reading.”
‘You set goals for them, and you watch them grow and bloom,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”
Wolf, 34, the youngest of the finalists, has spent her entire career at New Technology High.
She teaches biofitness — a combination of biology, health and physical education — to ninth graders, as well as environmental science. She also helps other teachers with their professional development.
A graduate of Napa High School, Wolf developed an interest in teaching while in college, where she tutored other students.
“It excited me in terms of being a part of people’s awakening” and learning, she said.
Wolf said she loves “designing experiences that are memorable for students,” like hands-on projects and building things with her kids. “I enjoy that creative challenge.”