“And I realized my love of science and my love of working with kids. Teaching is where I had to be.”

Jennifer Tróchez MacLean had never imagined becoming a teacher at all

USC Rossier alumn Jennifer Tróchez MacLean
Fifth grade teacher Jennifer Tróchez MacLean was one of two USC alumni to be named a 2018 Teacher of the Year by the Los Angeles Unified School District. (USC Rossier Photo/Ross Brenneman)

Surrounded by beaming family and colleagues, 22 teachers came to Town & Gown to be honored as Teachers of the Year for Los Angeles Unified School District.

Speaking to them, Karen Symms Gallagher, the Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean of the USC Rossier School of Education, congratulated the teachers on their great teaching—a feat for which there is no formula.

“While many of us have felt the impact of exceptional teachers, we as a society still have trouble articulating the qualities that translate good teaching into success,” Gallagher said. As board chair for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, working on making uniform standards for good teacher preparation, she would know.

Yet just as ambiguous is the route that great teachers take into their profession. As a child, Jennifer Tróchez MacLean, one of those honored as a Teacher of the Year, had planned on being a scientist.

“I was always curious about the things around me,” MacLean said. She didn’t expect to end up graduating from USC Rossier in 2001 with a master’s in science education. “I was pre-med, but life throws little curveballs at you and I ended up working at the California Science Center and the Natural History Museum. And I realized my love of science and my love of working with kids. Teaching is where I had to be.”

MacLean got an emergency teaching credential and started at Foshay Learning Center, one of the schools now in USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative.

That was 21 years ago. Now she’s a 5th grade teacher at Gates Street Elementary and a National Board Certified Teacher invested in teaching her students about the power of science.

There are more than 26,000 teachers in Los Angeles; about a thousand of them received nominations for this year’s Teachers of the Year awards, according to George McKenna, the board of education member representing District 1. MacLean is one of two Trojans who received the prize this year, along with Susan Kacvinsky MSW ’11.

“It’s definitely an honor, and definitely a privilege,” MacLean said. “I’m not only representing what I’ve done, but representing all the principals who have supported me and my colleagues who have been there with me as we do different things to advance instruction in our classrooms, and I think of all the children—that’s what makes it overwhelming.”

In an unexpected career, becoming a Teacher of the Year may be a platform to something even more unexpected. After all, 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes just announced she’s running to represent Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives.

MacLean laughed that she’s open to new opportunities, but now it’s mid-July.

“I’m already planning for this school year,” she said.

By Ross Brenneman

>Read the original story on USC Rossier’s website.