When Mary Pat Phillips earned her bachelor’s degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign during the 1980s, there weren’t that many jobs. For awhile, she lived at home with her parents while doing work that didn’t challenge her creatively. Then she got her teaching credential at San Francisco State University and everything changed.
“The teaching job I got offered when I graduated was in Santa Clara; that was in 1991,” says Phillips, who has since served the Santa Clara Unified School District for 24 years as an English and History teacher. After teaching at Peterson Middle School for a couple of years, Phillips has been teaching at Cabrillo Middle School ever since. Right now, she teaches a reading intervention class and is a librarian at the school, putting her Master of Library and Information Science from San Jose State University to good use.
On September 26, the Santa Clara County’s Office of Education awarded Phillips a Teacher of the Year Award at the 44th Annual Santa Clara County Teacher Recognition Celebration. Phillips was one of 36 teachers to receive this honor.
“My mom came in from Southern California, and my local friends came with me to the ceremony,” Phillips says. “The trophy I received is in the shape of a crystal flame. That’s the symbol for Santa Clara County’s Office of Education.”
Stan Garber, principal of Cabrillo Middle School, was a member of the nominating committee that selected Phillips as a candidate for the award.
“[Phillips] perfectly represents who we are as a school, and she understands what we’re trying to do with the children here,” Garber says. “She has a close personal relationship with every staff member. She’s involved in every program that we offer. She’s the most well-read woman I know. She actually worked at the Library of Congress. She’s so deserving of the honor and the perfect choice for Teacher of the Year.”
Phillips was overwhelmed by the nomination from her colleagues.
“I feel the honor of working with them every day, and that is my reward,” she says. “I’m lucky to work with great colleagues and a great principal. I really like middle school kids. I like that they’re not always fully formed, that you can still have a lot of influence on them. One way I influence students is through recommending books for them to read.”