Employee spotlight - Tracy Owensby

Tenaya Middle School teacher Tracy Owensby helps, from left, Aris Welch and Jackson Biggs during her English language arts class, part of the Laptop Program. (Fresno Unified School District)

Tenaya Teacher uses Humor to Connect with Students
Tracy Owensby teaches English and the Laptop Program at Tenaya Middle School, where she has taught her entire 25-year career. She was an Excellence in Education finalist in February, recognized by her peers for her challenging and engaging lessons and welcoming classroom environment, and for helping create a positive campus culture.

What is different about teaching middle school students vs other grades? Working with middle school kids is watching the process of 'human metamorphosis" daily. They come in short, sweet, and a bit naive, and leave having invented it all. That said, I believe kids of all ages need to be nurtured through creative and challenging content, high expectations and structure, and definitely a teacher with a good sense of humor!
How did you come to choose teaching as a career? Honestly, I tried to fight it. My dad, Ed Parrish, was a teacher and administrator. However, being a tad stubborn, I wanted to do my own thing. I was a Business Marketing major at Fresno State, and at the end of my junior year, I realized I was fighting nature.
What do you enjoy the most about your job? I am always making fun of myself, to get a laugh out of them, in order to connect content with something silly or positive. (Trust me, there is nothing fun about grammar!) I also love that they teach me something about being a better person or a new viewpoint all the time. The other day, a young man said something, and I just stopped and looked at him and said, "You know, I've done this many times, and I've never thought of it that way. I'm glad I showed up today!" We all laughed because when they learn something and things connect, I yell, "Aren't you glad you showed up today?"

What is the most challenging? Watching students who have the ability to succeed, but refuse to try is frustrating. Working with students who don't have anyone at home in their corner is heart-breaking. Dealing with the increase in negative behavior can be scary. Teaching huge classes of 38 times five and differentiating instruction to meet the needs of each child is mind-boggling. Those are all very real issues that I see on campus daily. However, the biggest personal challenge as a wife, mom of four, and English teacher is trying to balance work and home.

Tell me about the Laptop Program at Tenaya. Students share three core teachers in English language arts, history, and science. It is a GATE/pre-AP two-year program that students apply for in sixth grade. They need a minimum 3.0 GPA, a letter of recommendation, and an application essay. We can be current and creative, while covering classics alongside brand new curriculum.
Name one thing most people do not know about you. Currently, I am performing all of the singing roles in the musical "Les Miserable." This live production takes place in my car daily.

If you were not a teacher, what career would you choose? Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett were my childhood heroes. If I could somehow combine their careers of singing and making people laugh, that would be it. The flip side is I would love to own a bed and breakfast on a vineyard in the Napa area.

What is your dream vacation? Anywhere with my husband and all my kids, who are 24, 21, 16, and 5 years old. My son works in D.C. and my oldest daughter is away finishing college, so anytime I can get them all in the same room, the laughter takes over and I am "on vacation."

What book are you recommending to others right now? I could fill pages with titles that I love for all different reasons. These are all middle school friendly, but worth a read for by all: "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs, "The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, "The Mortal Instruments Series" by Cassandra Clare, "House of the Scorpion" by Nancy Farmer, "Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard" by Rick Roirdon, and "The Book Thief"' by Marcus Zusak.
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