Foothill choir teacher JoAnn Koobatian considers herself fortunate to have a career she absolutely adores, so it was icing on the cake when she learned she’d been named Pleasanton’s Teacher of the Year.
“Overwhelmed,” Koobatian said when recalling how she felt when she heard the news. “I can’t believe that I can do a job that I love as much as I do and not only make a career out of it, but be honored for it. It’s amazing to me because it’s the best job in the world. I have the most amazing students in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Koobatian and the rest of Foothill’s staff found out about the honor on April 18. Formal recognition came last week at the school district’s Salute to Service awards ceremony when Koobatian was presented with a special plaque.
“She’s such an outstanding teacher because you can tell how devoted she is to her students,” senior Kristen DesPrez said. “You can tell how much time and effort she puts into each of her lessons and making sure everyone has reached their vocal potential.”
“JoAnn's class reaches students from all backgrounds and brings them together for the love of music,” fellow teacher Linda Gullick said. “She inspires students to discover their passions. She is an amazing and gifted teacher.”
"JoAnn is an inspiration to our entire staff because of her dedication to her students and her perseverance," teacher Janet Gebet added. "We are amazed at the level of talent and professionalism displayed by JoAnn's students under her guidance."
Koobatian was nominated for the honor by her colleagues at Foothill and throughout the district. The final selection was made by a school district panel that includes former Teacher of the Year honorees.
Koobatian started her career at Foothill in 1996. Her first job also happened to be the start of Foothill’s choir program. The school had a skeleton of a program in the 1980s, but it fell apart and wasn’t revived until Koobatian was hired.
The first year choir was offered at Foothill, it was a joint effort between Foothill and Las Positas Community College. Koobatian was technically a Las Positas employee until the choir program took off that first year, and Koobatian joined the Foothill staff.
“The students were lucky enough to get a concurrent enrollment,” she said. “They got their high school units, but they also got a couple of units at the college. It really worked out well for those kids.”
During her years at Foothill, Koobatian has also filled in as choir teacher at Pleasanton Middle School and Amador Valley High School. She also currently helps with choir at Village, Pleasanton’s alternative high school.
Koobatian was born in San Leandro and lived there until her family moved to Pleasanton when she was in eighth grade. She graduated from Amador Valley High School and got her vocal music degree from San Jose State University.
“I knew my whole life that I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know I’d be in music,” she said. “I didn’t know I wanted to teach music until I did my student teaching. And I really like high school age because they’re going through what I went through. High school was so miserable for me. I felt I wanted to be there to help somebody through what I went through.”
Koobatian admitted she suffered from the teasing so many students endure in high school. That’s why it’s critically important for her to make sure all students feel welcome and safe in her classroom.
“I try to create a place for my students to feel like they’re home,” she said. “I’ve been there 14 years. I’ve never eaten lunch in the staff room. I eat lunch in the classroom with my kids every day. On the first day of school, I make sure every kid knows that my classroom is their home. I spend all my time with them.”
“She definitely tries to connect with her students, not just on the student-teacher level,” DesPrez added. “She’s always there if you need a friend to talk to. She’s very comfortable speaking to the students and making them feel at ease with her.”
Koobatian has continued to work full time as she’s battled a rare form of thymus gland cancer for which she’s been in ongoing treatment since her diagnosis in 2005. She flat-out rejected her doctor’s recommendation that she go on long-term disability while battling cancer, saying that her work with students keeps her going.
“It’s a struggle some days, of course, but you just do it,” she said. “It pushes you. It’s good to be pushed. The kids get a lot out of it, too. They see me pushing myself, so they push themselves.”
Koobatian keeps so busy with her choirs, including frequent travel to competitions, that she tried to beg out of attending the staff meeting where her award was announced. When the principal told her it was important for her to attend, “I was thinking maybe we’d get some money, and I wouldn’t get a class cut next year,” she said with a laugh.
“Just being recognized is amazing,” she said. “Yes, it’s hard work, but I love it so much. With all my cancer stuff, it kind of saves me. It keeps me thinking about what I love to do and not thinking about being sick and doing all of my treatments. It helps me, too.”
Koobatian lives in Livermore with her husband, Richard, and their 9-year-old daughter, Amanda.
Koobatian will represent Pleasanton this fall at the Alameda County Teacher of the Year event.
Photo courtesy of the Foothill yearbook staff
Posted Monday, May 9, 2011