A pair of east Hillsborough County educators arrived to work this week in style.
During the March 28 Excellence in Education Awards ceremony, Cassie Mattison of Spoto High School was named Teacher of the Year in Hillsborough and Socorrito Claudio of Wimauma Elementary received the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year award.
As a reward for their awards, both teachers pulled up to their respective schools in limousines this week. Claudio got her limo ride Tuesday and Mattison got hers Thursday morning.
The awards, presented by the Hillsborough Education Foundation, have changed life for both, if only temporarily.
“I’ve become an instant celebrity and I keep wondering why. For just being myself?” Mattison said. “My Facebook blew up over the weekend.”
The English Department chairwoman and school writing coach even got a Facebook friend request from her 11th grade English teacher at King High.
“She’s special,” said Spoto Principal Phil Carr.
Mattison is one of those people who can’t say no, he said.
It’s what got her into teaching. The students she tutored during college would not take no for an answer when they persuaded her to change her major from mass communications to education.
And it is that never-say-no attitude that led to her honor as teacher of the year, Carr said.
The 31-year-old Tampa native comes from a long line of teachers. But this honor, she said, was not what she expected after just nine years of teaching.
“My goal was to be where I am right now, a department head and teaching AP literature and having influence at my school,” Mattison said. “I guess my goal right now is to keep doing what I’m doing, but do it better.”
Her inspiration, she said, comes from the students and teachers whose futures and careers she is able to bolster.
“What I like most about teaching is giving students and my colleagues their own power to take whatever I am trying to teach them and make it their own,” Mattison said. “I give them an idea or a piece of information and they run with it.”
Just this week, as a crew was videotaping her classes for the Florida Teacher of the Year Competition, Mattison’s students impressed her with their analysis of a piece of literature they had never studied, she said.
And when teachers she coaches to improve student writing follow her suggestions and help their students develop, that’s the reward, Mattison said.
“Anytime I’m feeling down or frustrated, someone reminds me why I’m doing this,” Mattison said. “It’s almost like divine intervention, saying ‘Don’t give up on doing this.’
She experienced that recently when a student who had attended a writing boot camp stopped her in a hallway, thanked her and hugged her.
“Her rapport with students is excellent,” Carr said. “They know she genuinely has their best interest at heart and she can no more say no to them than she can to me.”
Even when she was announced as the winner during the Excellence in Education Awards ceremony Sunday, Claudio wasn’t quite sure she had captured the prize.
“The person who announced the winner mispronounced my name, so I had to turn to someone and say, ‘Was that my name?’
The 36-year-old fifth-grade language arts teacher is in her first year at Wimauma Elementary and has been teaching in Hillsborough since 2004.
“She is somebody who regularly goes above and beyond,” said Milady Astacio, principal at Wimauma Elementary. “She is very innovative and very proactive when it comes to applying for grants or anything she can think of to improve her class.”
Before arriving in Wimauma, Claudio taught for five years in New York, where she grew up in the South Bronx.
“Every year I’ve taught it’s been at a Title I school,” Claudio said. Title I schools receive supplemental federal funds with the highest student concentrations of poverty. “My heart is with inner-city and at-risk kids.”
Claudio feels a strong personal connection with her students, most of whom are children of migrant farmworkers.
She calls herself a “foster kid” who was adopted at age 5.
Claudio said the students at her school have taught her as much as she has taught them.
“This school is a utopia for educators,” said Claudio, who is working on a dissertation based on her work with migrant children.
“In the end, it’s all about reaching out and empowering these kids.”