A Danville middle school music teacher in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District has advanced as a finalist at the county level in the annual Teacher of the Year competition.
"When I first heard about this nomination, I was thinking this was really just a win on behalf of our entire music department for our school district, just recognition for arts and for electives in general," Chavonta Edington, of Diablo Valley Middle School, said after her win at the district level.
Edington was announced Tuesday as one of four finalists in the 2022-23 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year competition.
"The four teachers were selected from a talented pool of educators who are all focused on providing an exceptional educational experience for their students, and serve in leadership roles at their school and school district communities," County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey said in an announcement. "These teachers exemplify what teachers do every day which is go above and beyond for the education and well-being of their students."
Edington had been nominated as an SRVUSD recipient this year, alongside Tassajara Hills Elementary fourth-grade teacher Georgi Cappelletti, who did not advance as a countywide finalist.
The recognition comes to Edington after 16 years at Diablo Valley, out of her 23-year teaching career.
Edington said that she was just a grade ahead of her youngest students when she decided she wanted to be a teacher to kids of a similar age group, despite getting a relatively late start as a band member.
"(I was) never really a strong academic student," Edington said. "I joined band late, I didn't join until seventh grade, almost everyone had already started playing, and because I had a musical background from the church I just made very good progress."
Edington's early success on the clarinet came following a lifetime of involvement with music at home and through her church's choir. She said that finding an outlet for her skillset, and her proclivity towards music, led to her feeling good about herself for the first time ever in the seventh grade.
"I just knew at that moment that I wanted to be a band teacher," Edington said.
Edington wound up finding her place at an arts magnet high school, which required an hour-long bus ride each way, but which provided her with an environment to focus on music and be around like-minded students.
"Definitely a commitment, but it was really what I needed," Edington said. "I was around my people, likeminded, just music, music, music. Had I not gone to that school, I don't know where I'd be."
In college and grad school, Edington said she had always focused on the needs of younger students in particular. Despite high school teaching being a popular career choice, Edington emphasized the importance of good teachers before students get to high school.
"Our youngest children need the best teachers," Edington said.
"I was in seventh grade before I felt good about myself," she added. "No child should have to feel that way."
Edington said that her own struggles with self esteem prior to finding her place in music, as well as her other experiences, were at the heart of the empathy that drives her teaching philosophy.
"What kids need at this age is someone to listen and someone to understand," Edington said. "I think empathy is a big part of what drives my classroom. I always try to remember what it was like when I was in their grade."
Despite devotion to her students during a decades-long teaching career, Edington said that one of the most important things she's learned in her position is work and family balance, and how to say no.
"I think about whatever it was I was doing to catch someone's attention to win this award, that means time I was probably taking away from my family," said Edington, who is the mother of a fifth-grader and sixth-grader. "There's no way I could be successful without my husband's support and understanding from my family."
The pending end of the school year, and return to regular performances following pandemic shutdowns, has Edington and her students all the busier in the midst of their first regular performance season since 2019. This has included trekking four busloads of students to a music festival in Milpitas to perform, in their first trip as a class since 2019, as well as a string festival this week and an open house at Diablo Vista next week.
Two of the four finalists will be selected for the Teacher of the Year award at the county level -- set to be announced during a celebration in Walnut Creek on Sept. 22.