Class Acts: A Q&A with Elisa Zercoe

Allison Kaiser nominated Elisa Zercoe for Class Acts. Kaiser said her son, previously a student of Zercoe's, flourished in the classroom because of her zest for teaching. Zercoe is an awesome teacher who cares about each student in her classroom, Kaiser said. She is innovative and energetic in her teaching style as well as organized and thorough.

Name: Elisa Zercoe

Hometown: Modesto

Occupation: Fourth-grade teacher, Mary Lou Dieterich Elementary School

Family: Husband, Steve; sons, Cole, 19, Drew, 15

Background: Education Foundation Fellow, American Association of University Women; bachelor's degree and teaching credential from California State University, Stanislaus; graduate work at the University of New Hampshire.

Teaching experience: Three years substitute teaching (Diocese of Stockton), third full-time year with the Stanislaus Union School District

Why did you get into teaching? It was a logical path for me; my own children were in school, and I wanted to follow a career path that had a greater overall purpose. I have a great regard for education, and want to share that excitement with my students and others.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher? I really enjoy the creative aspect of teaching. Also, the unplanned moments can be interesting. You never know what a student might say, what value each day and every student will bring into the classroom. The laughter and joy is truly the best.

What is the most challenging part of your job? Job challenges include the limited funding for programs and learning equipment; curriculum that is highly scripted and pressure-packed pacing calendars.

Favorite teaching tool or activity in the classroom: The students love their "mini" whiteboards, especially for math reviews. Currently, My students' favorite activity has been caring for and observing the antics of their new classroom pet, Mr. T, the turtle.

What's next in your classroom? My students are finalizing their book summaries, learning about different ecosystems, using their beautiful singing voices, gearing up for the Jog-a-Thon, and the list goes on.

Advice for new teachers: Affiliate yourself with strong mentors who are willing to share, willing to listen, and willing to lend you a shoulder to cry on. Remind yourself that a teacher can be a powerful role model in a child's life, and that is an everlasting gift to your community.

Advice for students: Believe in yourself. You have the ability to set and accomplish your goals aided by determination and a positive and responsible attitude. Don't compare yourself to others, but ask yourself, "Am I doing the best that I can do?" Self-respect and the respect from others is invaluable: Don't throw it away with foolish choices.

Advice for parents: Remember the basics for your child's preparedness during the academic day: nutritional foods, water and adequate amounts of sleep. Also, save some of their schoolwork. Discuss it with them and display it with pride; it's precious to them.

Future plans: My dream and hope is to be involved in the development and establishment of an all-girls middle school in the Central Valley.

How do you reach students not interested in school? I try to relay the message to those students that education plays a vital role in their future successes in life. It is also important for students to find relevance in their education, making "connections" to the curriculum and their daily lives.

What would surprise people about your job? The time and emotional investment is incredibly great, and goes well beyond the last school bell ring. For a majority of teachers, there are many sleepless nights spent worrying about their students.

What did you do on your summer vacation? I worked on my tennis game, spent time with family, and visited the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico — beautiful! I also took two courses: geometry at CSU Stanislaus, and Advanced Technology at UC Riverside.


"Class Acts" is a weekly spotlight on outstanding teachers in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and foothills.

If you would like to nominate someone, please send his or her name and contact information, along with your name, phone number and the reason for the nomination, to jhanks@modbee.com.