Leslie Spainhower, Adams Middle School English teacher, wins LA County Teacher of the Year

Although she’s only been a teacher for a short while, Spainhower proves to have had a large impact on her students


Photo courtesy of Leslie Spainhower

After seven years of hard work and dedication at Adams Middle School, Leslie Spainhower, who teaches eighth grade Language Arts and  works in the school’s theater program, has been awarded LA County Teacher of the Year. She is one of the 10 recipients of the award for the 2019-2020 school year.

The award winners were announced on Oct. 1 and were selected from a field of 48 teachers representing 40 districts and have been submitted for the California Teach of the Year award. Due to the high level of competition for this award, Spainhower was “shocked” to hear she had won.

“When I got the phone call from the LA County Office of Education telling me that I won, I was very surprised because I didn’t really expect to win. Compared to a lot of other teachers, I’m pretty new, and I thought it’d be more difficult to win since I don’t have as much experience, so it was really exciting to hear this announcement,” Spainhower said.

For a teacher to be eligible for this award, they must first win the Teacher of the Year Award in both their school and its corresponding district. In Adams Middle School, teachers anonymously submit nominations, so it is a surprise for the teacher who wins the award.

“Miss Veal, the school principal, had all the staff get on a Zoom call and she said she had an announcement which was the winner of the school’s teacher of the year. She described the person who had won the award, and I honestly wasn’t really paying attention. When she announced that it was me, I was really shocked, excited and grateful because it was meaningful to me that I was nominated by a colleague and that they thought I deserved to win,” Spainhower said.

After also winning the RBUSD teacher of the year, Spainhower had to prepare her application for LA County Teacher of the Year. The application involves writing several essays, getting several letters of recommendation from peers and a student, creating a resume and an interview.

Additionally, due to COVID-19 halting in-person learning in March, the teachers’ responses to the pandemic played a big part in determining the winners of the award. For Spainhower, this involved “making sure the students were okay” and “interacting” with them.

“In addition to preparing my students for high school, I really wanted to focus on connecting with them,” Spainhower said. “I’ve been trying to make sure that I am talking to my students about their social and mental health because this is a really challenging time, and it’s easy to feel isolated. It’s important to me that everyone takes good care of themselves because it is very important to succeed in distance learning.”

Even though she has only been a teacher for a short time, Spainhower’s adaptability and caring attitude have impacted many of her former students like junior Nikhil Patel, who said she helped “improve [his] writing and skill in English.” 

“She made one of my least favorite subjects one that I could express myself in,” Patel said. “She ignited my enjoyment for reading and writing and taught me how to write from the heart rather than just to fulfill grading requirements.”

Although this award is important to her, Spainhower feels that “helping her students” in this “difficult time” is the most important thing to her, and she wants to teach as “well as possible.”

“I appreciate that people want to recognize me because I do think I work hard and I love teaching so much, but I also think there are a lot of teachers in our district that are just as deserving of recognition. I’m really passionate about teaching, and I feel like it’s what I’m supposed to do,” Spainhower said.