The Fullerton man who speaks four languages and coaches aquatic sports took state honors Friday for yet another ability: being a great day-to-day science teacher.
John M. "Jack" Hawkins of La Habra's Sonora High School was honored as one of California's five teachers of the year.
"I'm humbled, I'm overwhelmed and I'm exhilarated," Hawkins said Friday after a Sacramento luncheon where he and the other four were feted by state schools Supt. Delaine Eastin. "Teachers aren't used to getting honored. We're used to honoring our kids. When you get such a tremendous honor, you think, 'What about all my colleagues? They should be here too.' "
Hawkins, 54, has received scores of accolades from his colleagues, including teacher of the year for both his school and the district. But he said the most meaningful recognition comes from his students, who have voted him one of their two favorite teachers at least nine times since 1970.
Hawkins, chairman of the science and health department at Sonora, began his career in 1970 as a substitute teacher and aquatics coach in Fullerton Joint Union High School District. An educational Renaissance man, he speaks Italian, Spanish and a bit of Russian, and has taught everything from German to international baccalaureate-level chemistry at Sonora. He also coaches swimming, diving and water polo, and advises the skiing and snowboarding club.
"He's an integral part of everything we do concerning aquatics and science," said John Link, Sonora's athletic director. "He basically works more than two humans put together."
Hawkins is both a tough teacher and a compassionate friend and mentor, colleagues and students said.
Jonathon Abeling, a 17-year-old senior, knows Hawkins from the science lab and the ski slopes. He said the teacher refuses to let students fail and comes in on Saturdays if students need extra help.
"I really don't think of him as a teacher," Abeling said. "We can talk about anything from what we did on the weekend to schoolwork, or how a chemical reaction will equate. . . . I've never had a teacher like him. You learn so much without even knowing it because he has a really good teaching philosophy."
Steve Reed, a former student of Hawkins', now teaches science in a classroom next door.
"He actually inspired me to become a teacher, as well as a few others here at Sonora," Reed said. "He just has that effect on his students. He is a great motivator."
During Hawkins' tenure, Sonora has created a three-year science program that teaches some concepts from earth sciences, biology, chemistry and physics every year. That way, higher-level science is presented to every student, not just those who enroll in honors classes.
"I'm most proud of motivating students of all types to be successful," Hawkins said.
Honored Friday with Hawkins were Marilyn Whirry of the Manhattan Beach Unified School District, who will represent the state in a national competition for teacher of the year; Patrick Mongoven of San Marcos Unified; Karen O'Connor of Poway Unified; and Kami J. Winding of New Haven Unified.