Brittany Esnayra is often approached by her “kids” when she is out in the community. Some are now in their mid-20s, and they recall fond memories of Paramount High School Senior Campus, and many share their gratitude at having had her as a teacher for their English Language Arts (ELA) class.
The California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) alumna has been teaching at the school for over a decade now. For the past four years, she has worked in tandem with her co-teacher Jennifer Salido, a unique relationship that she says is more like a “workplace marriage.”
“My co-teacher says that she’s the tough one, and I’m more of the loving type. I let the kiddos know I’m really friendly, but even with a soft heart I still expect order and high achievement, “shared Esnayra, who serves as the Resource Specialist Program (RSP) teacher and is responsible for educating the students in their class who have a disability and are on an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
A “soft heart” has proven to be an important asset for Esnayra when teaching students with an IEP, a program developed to ensure that children with identified disabilities receive specialized instruction. It has certainly helped her earn a lot of respect from her students and colleagues, as well as administrators who recently named her this year’s Teacher of the Year of Paramount High School, and Teacher of the Year of the Paramount Unified School District.
“We have a very calm class. I was sitting there testing a student, then our principal and assistant principal walked in and told me this wonderful news, and I started crying,” says Esnayra. “I told the student, ‘You never know when good things are going to happen to you, and it’s okay to cry over good things.’”
Esnayra earned her Bachelor in Liberal Studies from CSUDH in 2008 and completed the master’s program coursework in Special Education in 2016. Kate Esposito, professor of Special Education at CSUDH, is one of several faculty who had a profound effect on her.
“Dr. Esposito would constantly remind us that the real experience will come outside of the books – when we set foot in the classroom,” she says. “Her encouragement and reassurance that ‘This is a lot to learn, but trust me, when you get to the classroom, you’re going to understand what it’s all for.’ She was right!”
That holds true for Esnayra to this day. She cherishes her time in the classroom and is actively engaged and authentic with her students. As an RSP teacher, she is responsible for ensuring that the students get their recommendations and modifications met, and that they reach the benchmark goals of their work plan.
“I’m good about clarifying directions for my students,” she says. “I make myself available outside of classroom hours, so they know that I am always there for them. It’s important to let them know they’re loved.”
Esnayra spent her early childhood years in Paramount before moving to North Long Beach at the age of 9, then to Lakewood four years ago. She believes that it is vital for students to know their teachers’ background.
“I want them to know that I’ve been in their shoes. I have a child that is close to their age, so I tell them that I wouldn’t say or teach them anything that I wouldn’t want my daughter to know. I let their parents know that as well,” says Esnayra, who views being a role model as just as essential.
“Five or six years ago, one of my students, who was also from Long Beach, found out that I lived in the area. She said ‘Wait, Ms. Dotson [her maiden name] grew up in North Long Beach and lived at the Parwoods [a housing project], and she became a teacher? Well, that means I can become a teacher, too.’”
“That really touched my heart,” says Esnayra, who has been accepted to CSUDH’s School Leadership Program and will start in fall 2021. “It confirmed for me that I can be a positive example for young people. Like a lot of my colleagues, we came from the community, we thrived, and were successful in pursuing our educational goals. The fact that this student saw light in my path and it encouraged her to follow it, that means everything to me.”