Over the course of her 24-year career in education, Theresa "Tessie" Gonsalves estimates she's taught "5,000 or so" students, mostly at Harvest Park Middle School, which she's called home for more than two decades.
After relocating from the San Joaquin Valley to Pleasanton during her early years of teaching, the eighth-grade science instructor quickly became attached to the community. That long-term commitment was recently recognized by the Pleasanton Unified School District, which honored Gonsalves with the district's coveted Teacher of the Year Award.
"When I first came here, my first job in Pleasanton was at Harvest Park, and I've just always been very loyal to the district and was raised that way," Gonsalves told the Weekly. "You stay loyal to the people who do good by you."
Gonsalves has spent 18 of her 22 years with PUSD at Harvest Park, where she's known by students and staff as the "mama of the science department." Faculty members who anonymously nominated Gonsalves for the prize said she carries out her work "with a smile and a twinkle in her eye" and "makes us feel like a family."
Growing up in the small farm town of Tulare, about 60 miles north of Bakersfield, Gonsalves was inspired most by instructors who were "more personable" and made the students laugh and feel safe. "I always knew I was going to be a teacher," she said, and pursued her professional path with the intention of teaching middle school, a transitional period that's "never dull."
"Every day is different," she said. "High school is exciting because they're young adults but middle school ... this is where I feel like I can make the biggest impact. They really are just little kids in big bodies."
"It takes a certain kind of person to be a teacher and you have to be wired differently for each level," Gonsalves added. "At the end of the day, I think it's a very personal profession. That's why I say we call them our kids and not our students. You have to treat them like you'd want your own child to be treated."
That means being easygoing, flexible and "super nurturing and patient," but the biggest challenge that Gonsalves faces as an educator is simply time.
"Making sure you have enough to get to the kids and only having an influence on the kids for while they're here at school," she said. "We have 180 days to do that and that's probably the biggest challenge we have, is making sure that we can do right by them in such a short amount of time."
At the end of the day, Gonsalves said her job is "about teaching students to be lifelong learners," both in and outside the classroom. That means taking on counseling duties as an intervention specialist after the bell rings or whatever else is necessary to keep kids on the right path, so winning an award for her years of service was unusual to her.
"When I got the award, it seemed very odd to me, just because that's not why I do it," she said. "That kind of focus, it's just I'm doing my job."
Gonsalves is also in the running for the countywide Teacher of the Year award, which will be presented by the Alameda County Office of Education at an annual ceremony later this year.