Odessa educator emotional upon receiving Teacher of Year award: 'It's just surreal'

Odessa educator emotional upon receiving Teacher of Year award: ‘It’s just surreal’

Lornalyn De Leon’s mother, grandmother and cousins were all teachers, so she figured, why not become one, too?

De Leon initially planned to teach for five years. It’s now 23 years later, and she’s just been named the Ector County ISD Secondary Teacher of the Year.

Not only that, De Leon, who is originally from the Philippines, became a U.S. citizen just last year, according to the Odessa American.  Her first stop in the U.S. was Louisiana in 2008. She taught middle school for about 10 years before moving to the Permian Basin, according to the newspaper.

She learned about her Teacher of the Year award when Superintendent Dr. Scott Muri surprised her in her classroom.

“It’s just surreal,” De Leon states in an emotional video interview posted by the school district.  “Like who would have thought that a teacher coming from the Philippines, coming here to the U.S [could win this award]. This is what I want to do. And I’m so happy. And I called my mom and said I’ve done it, I made you proud. And she said, yes, I’m so proud of you.”

De Leon serves as science teacher at George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa. She goes above and beyond, advising students on science experiments that end up tested by real NASA astronauts in space. In March, the Odessa American reports, she took five neuroscience students to the Texas Associations of School Boards meeting in Galveston “to share the experience of learning neuroscience in virtual reality.”

As a teacher, De Leon says her short term goals are to ensure her students pass her class and move on to the next level. Longterm, she revels in hearing that some 0f her former students are now doctors, nurses and engineers. She loves when former students now serving in STEM fields recall her lessons, like the song and dance number they did in her biology class related to bones. Inspiring careers, even just a little bit, is “the reward for me,” De Leon said.

Her recipe for success in the classroom is basic, but not easy.

“An outstanding teacher has a very good work ethic,” she said. “You just got to know that every day is not the same as before. You have to be open to challenges. You have to step outside the box sometimes when you teach, and you have to be a lifelong learner.”

Creating connections with students is a must, De Leon added. A good teacher but set and stick to rules and procedures, while also establishing mutual trust and respect.

“You have to know how to step up, reach them, talk to them,” she said. “You have to build relationships.”

De Leon said she was speechless and humbled upon learning she was named Secondary Teacher of the Year.

“I was telling my principal that I hope my story will be an inspiration for anyone dreaming of having a better life,” De Leon said.  “You can make it anywhere if you put your heart and mind to it.”

Photo courtesy of Ector County ISD.