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'We're Here to Urge Them to Dream'

Education: Chauncey Veatch of Coachella Valley High is named teacher of the year.

April 23, 2002|CLAIRE LUNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The newest national Teacher of the Year almost wishes he could refuse the honor.

Chauncey Veatch, a retired Army colonel who started teaching seven years ago in rural California desert schools, said he appreciates the chance to share his love for teaching during the next year as a spokesman for the profession. But the social studies teacher regrets having to leave his classroom at Coachella Valley High School in Thermal, just east of Palm Springs, to do it.

He will be honored this week at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., for his devotion to his students, many of whom are from migrant worker families. In June, Veatch will start a yearlong paid sabbatical to visit schools and educational conferences throughout the country.

"I receive my reward literally every day I'm with my students in the classroom, so it's an amazing irony that in being selected for this award it will take me away from them," Veatch, 54, said in a telephone interview from a Washington hotel room. "But I feel a responsibility to my students and the community to share the excitement I feel about being a teacher and the countless miracles going on in the classroom every single solitary day."

Of the 2,900 students at Veatch's school, about 96% are Latino and half of those come from migrant families. Veatch said he has a special affinity with those migrant workers' children because he spent his own childhood shuttling around the country with his military family.

"I celebrate what they bring to the classroom rather than focusing on what they've missed," said the Palm Desert resident, who followed his brother and sister into teaching after 22 years in the infantry and medical services corps. "Teachers aren't here to throw roadblocks in their way. We're here to urge them to dream."

Veatch started his second career as an eighth-grade teacher and spent three years taking night and summer classes to earn his teaching credential before transferring to the high school. He broadens the curriculum to include a heavy dose of community service, leading students to distribute health information to farm workers and to tutor third-graders.

"Believing our students can succeed is not a desire or facade but something he actually lives," said Richard Alvarez, former Coachella Valley principal. "This caring can be seen in his eyes, heard in his voice, felt in his presence and mostly seen in his actions."

The Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers and educational book publisher Scholastic Inc. Colleagues nominate teachers for state-level awards, and a 15-person panel of education professionals selects the national winner. Veatch is the first Teacher of the Year from Riverside County and the fifth from California.

Last year's Teacher of the Year, a social studies teacher from Vermont, helped with Veatch's selection. "He really cares deeply about the children," said Michele Forman. "Not just that they do well on tests but that they make the community around them better."

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