Out of 188 nominees, Lisa Rotenberger from Dommerich Elementary is one of five finalists for Orange County Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year. She was not chosen at the ceremony held on Feb. 21.
In Lisa Rotenberger’s Dommerich Elementary kindergarten class, no day is a boring one. There are the calming stretches before sitting on the reading mat, tracing shadows with fifth-grade science buddies or tending to their garden, full of the ingredients needed to make most kids’ favorite food — pizza.
“She’s not afraid to try something new,” said Jason LeFebvre, a second-grade teacher at the school.
And that’s what makes Rotenberger special. Special enough to be named the Maitland school’s Teacher of the Year, and one of five finalists, out of 188 nominees, for Orange County Public Schools’ (OCPS) Teacher of the Year. The winner was announced Tuesday, Feb. 21, and it was not her, but that doesn't change her mission.
Rotenberger’s philosophy is to give her students hands-on, real life learning opportunities. When they learn about how a sunflower grows, they take one apart and see what’s inside. They get their hands dirty in their pizza garden. They greet each other, and guests, politely each morning. They sing and move, and learn.
Principal Junella Handley said there’s never been a time when she’s entered Rotenberger’s class and they weren’t doing something new and exciting.
“She brings learning to life,” Handley said.
She’s also great at following through on the idea of teaching the whole child, colleagues said. Rotenberger focuses on being healthy through incorporating movement into teaching, challenges and reaches each child at their level, and treats them with the caring she’d give her own family. Rotenberger loves watching them make new friends, including everyone in their play and watching them learn to care about each other.
She’s the most giving teacher LeFebvre said he’s ever met.
“They know that she cares about them; she’s so patient and loving,” said Rebekah Dooley, a fifth-grade teacher. “They know they’re safe with her.”
“Your goal is to love them and to help them to reach their fullest potential in one learning year, and to encourage them,” Rotenberger said.
Not only does she love seeing them grow as people, but as students too. There are little magical moments that she gets to see, when what she’s teaching clicks in their minds. She sees them becoming mathematicians, deep thinkers, problem solvers and readers.
“When you’re teaching children to write, to see those moments when all those skills that you’ve been teaching start to really come together and you see this writing that starts to flow and it’s just beautiful,” she said. “It is amazing. It’s always a miracle to me every year to watch it happen.”
Rotenberger wasn’t always a kindergarten teacher. She’s taught a few older grades, but when she had her own children — who she said were her best teachers — a passion was created for educating the tiniest students. And being a role model for her family is what has pushed her to stay so invested in her school and its learning community of teachers and parents. She wants her three children to understand the importance of community involvement. Her husband and children all spent time on the school’s community garden, planting and building.
Rotenberger takes her commitment to helping others further by being a role model for other teachers, as well. She’s never resistant to sharing her ideas, teaching expertise or mentoring new teachers. LeFebvre was one of three new kindergarten teachers when he started at Dommerich, and said she was always a welcoming ear for questions, and is still someone who is concerned with the success of the whole school, not just her own class.
“Her door’s always open, her heart’s always open,” Handley said.