Teacher Talk

Megan Gross, Del Norte High School
Special education teacher recognized as 2017 National Teacher of the Year finalist.

Megan Gross, special education teacher at Del Norte High School, San Diego

Named one of five 2016 California Teachers of the Year, Megan Gross was also recently a finalist for the 2017 National Teacher of the Year Award run by the Council of Chief State Officers. This dedicated special education teacher has spent her entire career advocating for students with disabilities.

Why did you become a teacher?

“After graduating from UC Davis, I supported adults with developmental disabilities who lived in a group home. One individual had Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease. He would sit at the kitchen table and tell me about his elementary school and how one of his teachers had taught him how to sign his name in cursive. I was so impressed he still remembered his teacher and that she had clearly impacted his life. I wanted to be someone like that for other people with disabilities.”

Did you have a favorite teacher?

“I attended K-12 schools in the Oak Grove School District and graduated from the Morgan Hill Unified School District. I’m also a graduate of University of California, Davis and California State University, Sacramento. I’ve been so lucky to have been taught by many incredible teachers who encouraged me, inspired me to think critically and creatively, and shared their love of education.

“My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Taylor, advocated for me to be placed in honors classes in middle school and that helped shape my education opportunities in grades 7–12, which I’m grateful for. I had incredible science teachers at Live Oak High School, especially Mr. Hemeon. He was enthusiastic, kind, clever and an incredibly talented artist. He would create these chalkboard diagrams to explain human body systems in anatomy class or DNA in biology, and it fueled my love for science, which is why I have a bachelor’s degree in genetics.

“At UC Davis, I was lucky enough to be in writing classes with Professor Dale Flynn. She taught a Writing in the Sciences course and was the first teacher I had who said she thought I was a talented writer. Her voice still echoes in my head almost 20 years later and has been the encouragement I needed to publish two books—The Inclusion Toolbox: Strategies and Techniques for All Teachers and ParaEducate, a resource guide for professionals who support students with disabilities in elementary and secondary classrooms.”

Tell us one fun thing about you

“I grew up in the Bay Area and am an avid Oakland Athletics and San Jose Sharks fan. My dad took me to the first Sharks game ever when they played at the Cow Palace in Daly City.

What are you most proud of as a teacher?

“I’m really proud of the opportunities my students have had to be included and learn academic content in general education classes. Because of these opportunities, my students have learned concepts that I never could have taught them. They’ve made connections with other teachers who now advocate for them. They’ve increased their communication skills and their peers see them as peers.”

How do you feel about being a teacher of the year?

“I’m so grateful for this opportunity and incredibly honored. This experience has provided me an opportunity to talk with people from across our state and country about inclusive education and share ideas for establishing more opportunities for students at their schools, too. I love this!

“A really wonderful part of being one of the California Teachers of the Year and in the National Teacher of the Year program is the connections that I have made with all of the other state teachers of the year. I love that now I get to learn from these incredible, passionate educators from across our country.”

Any plans for retirement?

“I have more than 20 years to go before I retire! I’m not sure what life will have in store for me then but I hope to travel, spend time with my family, and have more opportunities to curl up with a good book.”

Teacher Talk is a series of profiles on California teachers and other educators. To be considered for a future profile, please email communications@calstrs.com, with Teacher Talk in the subject line.