Rutter MS

James Rutter Middle School teacher Lynda Bettencourt with her student Kobe Bracy.

Lynda Bettencourt, an educator who has worked in the Elk Grove Unified School District for 30 years, is now a Sacramento County Teacher of the Year.

The Sacramento County Office of Education announced her honor on July 30. Belinda Foster, an English teacher at Grant Union High School in Sacramento, is the other 2021 County Teacher of the Year.

Bettencourt is a study skills teacher, an intervention teacher, and a teacher-in-charge at James Rutter Middle School. She mainly focuses on helping students who are struggling with academic challenges. The educator previously helped open Cosumnes Oaks High School when she taught health education there for 12 years.

Bettencourt recalled that she felt a mix of excitement and a little nervousness when she learned about her new county honor.

She spoke to the Citizen a week before she started the new school year at Rutter Middle School – they are among 67 schools that will only offer online classes and other forms of distance learning this month, due to concerns over Sacramento County’s COVID-19 situation. Their campuses will remain closed this month.

“It’s just the thought about representing so many amazing teachers in this time when teachers are displaying so much resilience as we are going into distance learning,” Bettencourt said.

She is now eligible to be nominated as a California Teacher of the Year.  

In May, Bettencourt was also announced to be an Elk Grove Unified School District Teacher of the Year after being nominated by her school’s co-workers. She is the third consecutive Elk Grove Unified teacher to become a Sacramento County Teacher of the Year. Last year, Julie Fong, a special education teacher at Elk Grove Elementary School, also had the honor. Michael Steele, a math teacher at Franklin High School, gained the 2018 recognition. 

Bettencourt is a Sacramento native whose mother taught at Parkway Elementary School. She told the Citizen in May that she became interested in teaching after she graduated from U.C. Berkeley and worked as a graduate assistant for the softball team at California State University, Sacramento.

“I’ve just always had a passion for people,” she said on May 28. “I enjoy the interactions, the creative relationships. I’m a mover and a shaker, I can’t sit still – so teaching was a perfect fit for me and my personality.”

One of her favorite success stories was her student Kobe Bracy who was often hospitalized for a chronic medical condition. Despite his physical pain, he still smiled whenever he entered Bettencourt’s classroom and he shared his personal story as a practice for his public speaking skills.

“Over the next two years and to this day, Kobe has taught me more about being a teacher than I ever could have imagined,” she told the Citizen in May.

For the Sacramento County Teacher of the Year honor, Bettencourt had to write six essays this summer on topics such as her philosophy of education, her school’s culture and community, and how she assessed student work.

“I haven’t written that many essays since I was in college,” she said. “But I thought it was a very insightful process – it forced me to reflect on why I do what I do.”

In one essay she wrote about her teaching philosophy of carefully listening to students and encouraging them in order to establish trust.

“When they trust you and know you believe that they can do anything they put their mind to – when they all come in (the classroom), the sky’s the limit,” Bettencourt said.

She mentioned that she has the same ethic as “the keeper of the vision” in her softball coaching.

“I’m the keeper of the vision for my classroom and (the students) are the keepers for their own visions,” the teacher said. “I’m there to facilitate and give them the opportunity to grow and become a contributing member of the community.”

This summer, Bettencourt said that she and her fellow teachers have been busying planning their new online education program for the new school year.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen my colleagues work so hard and diligently,” she said.

At Rutter Middle School, one of their staff’s goals is to have teachers use the Zoom application to make “home visits” or conduct online meetings with the parents or guardians of 450 seventh graders by December.

Bettencourt recalled previous online meetings with students’ family members such as a father who pulled over his semi truck in Las Vegas so that he could use his smartphone to meet with her.

“This is just a new level of community connection,” Bettencourt said. “They need us and we need them more than ever.”