The La Mesa-Spring Valley School District bestowed the honor of “Teacher of the Year” on Lemon Avenue Elementary teacher Laura Autio in April.
Autio, who has taught in the district for 20 years, teaches a combination class of second- and third-grade students. She will now represent La Mesa-Spring Valley teachers at the County Office of Education’s upcoming County Teacher of the Year event.
“It’s humbling, because we have such great, great teachers in our school and our school district,” Autio said.
Her success as a teacher is only possible with the support she gets from her fellow teachers and volunteers, especially considering the challenges of teaching two grade-level curricula while at the same time adjusting to new Common Core standards, she said.
Ashleigh Yturralde, a parent volunteer who helps in the classroom once a week, said she has been impressed to watch how Autio tailors her lessons to the varying needs and proficiency levels of the students she teaches.
“She differentiates everything they do for each individual learner,” Yturralde said. “That seems insurmountable to me.”
Lemon Avenue Principal Natalie Martinez said that differentiation runs like clockwork in Autio’s classroom.
“When I go in there, there are so many different learning activities going on simultaneously,” Martinez said.
Autio said she manages the challenge of multiple grade levels in one classroom by giving the students time to teach and tutor each other, which fosters a sense of collaboration and community.
An important objective in Autio’s classroom is for students to connect what they’re learning to the world outside the classroom and practicing making a difference.
“Big ideas start with small steps,” Autio said.
This often translates into lessons and activities in which students read nonfiction sources in the classroom and then apply what they’ve learned outside, such as recycling on campus or an upcoming Saturday morning field trip with I Love A Clean San Diego to help clean the banks of the San Diego River.
Autio said her struggle with breast cancer beginning nine years ago changed her perspective on life and showed her the power of a positive spirit and positive thinking — concepts she works to model for her students.
“Humor is so important,” Autio said.
She often reaches into her “bag of tricks” — which includes items such squeaky toys, a voice modifier and pompoms — to keep things light and energetic during lessons. The kids love it, said Stella Zimmerman, a parent who also volunteers in the classroom.
“She just really teaches with a personal touch, and as a parent, I really appreciate that,” Zimmerman said.
Born and raised in San Diego, Autio honed a talent for golf at a young age, winning the Junior World Golf Tournament at age 12. Later, as a student at San Diego State University, she discovered another passion: elementary education.
She earned her bachelor’s degree and teaching credential there and later attended National University for a master’s degree and preliminary administrative credential.
—Do you have an idea for someone we should feature in the La Mesa Courier? Write to the editor at email@example.com.