Michelle Gottleber is a Michigan native who works in a predominantly Hispanic school on Tucson's south side.
But she hasn't let any language or cultural barriers prevent her from connecting with her students and parents, and has even taken on leadership responsibilities at her school.
Besides, if she needs an interpreter, her students are more than willing to help her.
"If I try to say something in Spanish and it's not right, they'll keep telling me until I get it right," said Gottleber, who teaches second grade at Drexel Elementary School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.
"They appreciate teaching me about their culture," she said.
Gottleber's ability to transcend those barriers has garnered her recognition as one of three Rodel Exemplary Teachers in the Tucson area.
The teachers have been selected for their outstanding achievement in high-poverty schools.
Gottleber has taught at Drexel for eight years. She also taught at a school in Sells. "She's very compassionate about her students," said Drexel Principal Debra Garcia.
Gottleber leads the second-grade team of teachers at the school and is also part of school's leadership team, Garcia said.
And she is one of the teachers helping to prepare the school to meet the state's new common core curriculum.
"I count on her leadership to help us with the school," Garcia said.
When Gottleber was young, she would play school with her friends and the children at her mother's day-care center, she said.
"I never saw myself doing anything else besides being in education," she said. "I set that goal for myself, went to school and accomplished it."
She attributes her success to focusing solely on her students and not letting outside factors distract her, she said.
Some of her students don't have supplies, such as books, so she has to provide those materials when they arrive in her classroom.
"It's a challenge, but a challenge you meet every day," she said.
Despite the challenges, she has personally benefited from working at Drexel.
"Learning about the Hispanic culture, I wouldn't be able to do that if I wasn't at my school," she said. "It's really been a great experience."
-- School: Drexel Elementary School
-- District: Sunnyside Unified School District
-- Class: Second grade
-- Experience: 10 years
-- On being named a Rodel Exemplary Teacher finalist: "Every day we go into the classroom and do what we need to do, and these little honors are just so rewarding, for somebody to stop and say, 'We appreciate what you're doing and we think you're doing a great job.' "
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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