Position: American Sign Language Teacher
School: Pinole Valley High School
School District: West Contra Costa Unified School District
City, State: Pinole, California
About the Nominee: Michele Lamons was nominated by her principal, Kibby Kleiman.
Michele Lamons is a teacher’s teacher. Inspiring students for what is now her second decade, Ms. Lamons’s American Sign Language classes are wonders in terms of instruction and production. Students begin by learning the language, then immersing themselves in the study and practice. By the time her students reach their senior year, they can converse in ASL, debate, sing, play games, laugh and cheer one another, which is the “sound” you hear when you pass by her room.
Ms. Lamons’s exacting standards are legendary at Pinole Valley. Students who arrive late to her class know to wait outside the door so as not to disturb testing. That goes for principals, too! Once inside the classroom, it is clear why such signs are necessary. The focus level in Ms. Lamons’s class is intense. All eyes have to be forward to see the questions, or learn the lessons being put forth. The students, thirty to forty strong, are somehow all seen by Ms. Lamons as well. If a student makes a half-hearted sign, she will see it and call the student out on it. With as many as eighty hands flying, she doesn’t miss a pinky. Remarkable.
The quality of the lessons is remarkable, too! Students run through everything from the alphabet and the colors, to sentences and stories. Because she sees everything, Ms. Lamons is one of those teachers who is able to find the right way to inspire each student. The popular term these days is “differentiated instruction,” and Ms. Lamons is a master in that. A student who needs a gentle nudge gets that, whereas his neighbor gets lightly teased, and the student behind him gets a hearty hand, while to the side of her, the next student gets publicly challenged. Each student gets their own unique approach, but the one thing shared is the consistent belief and evidence that all of them can learn. There is no option to “opt out” - a student may not have the right answer, but they are going to provide an answer.
Ms. Lamons creates a culture of achievement. During their first year, her students learn to play in their new language. The card game “Speed” challenges them to play their cards by signing its color and number. The peals of laughter in the classroom are proof that fun is happening, and the intensity shows the learning. Super competitive students, who get angry at being outplayed, must sign their bad language as well!
At some point, the students are asked to perform a song through sign. All students are videotaped, a custom that they get accustomed to in this class. Playing music in the background, the students come to the front of the room and not only sign the words, but display the emotion behind them as well. More than a few tears flow through the eyes of students and adults watching this incredible task with the almost indescribable passion put to it. Her students learn what it means to be “outside”; they do more than sympathize, they become teachers and learners themselves. It is, in a word, a heroic undertaking.
Ms. Lamons’ class has become so popular that it has outgrown her! The vast majority of her ASL 1 students sign up for ASL 2, and nearly all of those students want to be in ASL 3. Her school rapidly ran out of available periods for her to teach! In fact, for the past three years, Ms. Lamons has worked a 120% schedule just so she can cover six periods in a six period day. She is regarded by students and parents as a jewel and has been named a district and county wide teacher of the year. In her spare time, she runs her school’s nationally ranked Debate squad.
PVHS is proud to have such an amazing teacher; her students get involved with their community and use their new gift to inspire others!
Principal Kleiman considers it an honor to submit this nomination with "delight and intensity, the way Ms. Lamons would do it!"