By Karen Billing
Torrey Pines High School alumnus Daniel Gettinger was recently named one of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s 21 “Teachers of the Year.”
The honor is a big accomplishment as the 25-year-old Gettinger is only in his third year of teaching and was recognized as a standout in the second largest school district in the nation. LA Unified has an enrollment of more than 640,000 students at over 900 schools and 187 public charter schools.
The Rancho Santa Fe native teaches statistics, pre-calculus and algebra 1 at Huntington Park High School in Huntington Park and has “committed his life to closing the achievement gap.”
“I have a firm belief that all students, regardless of their backgrounds, are capable of achieving at a high level,” Gettinger said.
He said that while it’s nice to be recognized his students are the ones who deserve the recognition as they’re the ones who have worked hard all year, coming in as early as 6 a.m. or staying until 6 p.m. for extra help to improve in school.
“I can’t take most of the credit, it’s really a reflection of the work of my students,” Gettinger said. “I’m trying to get better for my students.”
Gettinger graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2010 with a degree in economics — he really had no intention of becoming a teacher. Upon graduating he decided he “wanted to make a difference” so he joined up with Teach for America.
Teach for America is an organization that places mostly college graduates and other professionals into teaching positions in low-income schools with serious needs. Members of Teach for America make a two-year commitment to teach but two years was not enough for Gettinger.
“Once I got into the classroom and started working with the students, it became too hard to leave so I decided to stay in education,” Gettinger said.
Gettinger earned his preliminary credentials and took night classes to get his full credentials, earning his master’s degree in urban education, educational policy and administration at Loyola Marymount University.
Gettinger was originally placed in Fremont High School, a very low performing school in south Los Angeles that was undergoing reconstitution, a process where they were so low performing that the district removed the administration and the entire staff had to reapply for their jobs. Less than 50 percent of the existing staff was brought back at Fremont.
“I was part of the crew that was brought in,” Gettinger said.
Gettinger was assigned to a class of algebra 1 repeaters, students who had previously failed the class.
“I’ve got to tell you that at first I didn’t know what I was doing and the students knew that,” Gettinger said. “I had to learn quickly how to be more effective because that’s what the students needed.”
In his second year as a teacher, he joined the staff of Huntington Park High, which was also going through a reconstitution. He said he was quickly embraced by the students, staff and the community as he continued to work to be the best teacher he could be.
His students deal with difficult issues outside of school, such as a lack of stability in their family lives and gangs. As a teacher, he aims to support his students and provide learning experiences that improve their critical thinking, allowing them to investigate content and discover it on their own.
“My students are really smart and the worst thing I can do as a teacher is get in the way,” Gettinger said.
He said his students won’t develop those critical thinking skills if they’re just sitting and copying notes and listening to him speak — he needs them to engage in the material.
Next year, Gettinger will move from an everyday teacher to a position as math coach for the school, supporting other teachers in the math department as they build curriculum. It was a tough decision to leave the classroom but he feels like it will make the school better as a whole.
“For me it’s about how can I make the most impact,” Gettinger said. “That’s really what it’s all about.