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West Jordan Journal

Teacher of Year award is sign of sign language teacher’s excellence

Oct 28, 2020 05:04PM ● By Jet Burnham

Superintendent Anthony Godfrey congratulates ASL teacher Rae Boren as a Teacher of the Year runner-up. (Photo courtesy of Jordan School District.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Copper Hills High School American Sign Language teacher Rae Boren was named a runner-up for this year’s Utah Board of Education Teacher of the Year award.

“Mrs. Boren is an amazing teacher because she loves to teach, she loves what she is teaching and she loves the people that she teaches,” ASL student Alexander Jones said. “Because of the subject she teaches and the way that she teaches, where she puts her whole heart and soul into everything she does, she opens herself up to the class and makes us feel comfortable. She really is just one of the best teachers I've ever had.”

Boren’s passion and enthusiasm have endeared her to students and colleagues for 21 years.

“I think what makes her such a great teacher is her passion for the subject she's teaching is genuine,” Laura Ruiz, a former student said. “She really wants to see her students succeed.”

Boren’s passion has helped ASL flourish in popularity as a world language class elective—and not just at CHHS. Beginning in 2006, Boren supported ASL students at schools with low enrollment and no certified/endorsed ASL teacher by broadcasting her classes.

“I was able to help keep those programs going, plant seeds of interest and ensure students who wanted to learn ASL could,” Boren said. “The number of schools that now offer ASL—the legitimacy, recognition and acceptance has come so far. I think I was in the right place at the right time, and I've been grateful to play a small part in the pioneering efforts of growth.”

Two of Boren’s former students are now ASL teachers at local high schools.

Tawny Bowman said she enjoyed Boren’s classes because “she was engaging, loved the curriculum she was teaching and kept the content new and relevant.” Bowman now teaches ASL classes at Herriman High School.  

“Mrs. Boren has always been very influential in my life since high school,” Bowman said. “I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today without her or her influence in my life. She has become a very dear friend and colleague.”

Though she never took Boren’s class, Meagan Benson got to know her through ASL Club activities. After graduation, she returned to CHHS to student teach with Boren and is now an ASL teacher at West Jordan High School.

“The thing that makes Rae a good teacher is her ability to see the potential and motivation within people,” Benson said. “She makes teaching look so fun and easy. Every single day I was in her room for student teaching, she gave 110% of herself to her students. I never saw Rae have a bad teaching day.”

CHHS 2015 graduate Laura Ruiz took three years of ASL classes from Boren.

“It was her passion that just came across and spilled over,” Ruiz said. “She just had such a passion; you couldn't help but also feel that same excitement.” 

Boren’s classes inspired Ruiz to become a certified sign language interpreter.

“She doesn't just teach from her knowledge, but she reaches out to the community and native signers to bring that into the classroom,” Ruiz said. “From the beginning, she started getting us involved in the community, and I think all that exposure just ended up making me fall in love with this community and language.”

Alexander Jones, whose mother is deaf, took Boren’s classes to improve his ASL skills.

“My relationship with my mom has been really strengthened in many ways by taking ASL class,” he said. “When she asks what I do in my day, I am able to tell her the new things that we learn, and she is able to understand and grow with me in ASL.” 

Felicia Jones said her son’s confidence in communicating has increased.

We are able to sign together more fluently, and his interpreting skills have really improved as we now go to more activities together,” she said.

Kaylee Funk, who signed up for Boren’s classes because her sister Brynlee had had such a good experience, said Boren’s class is always the first one she schedules each year at registration.

She said during distance learning this spring, Boren was a teacher who worked hard to stay connected with students. And this fall, Boren has adapted her interactive teaching style to be engaging despite the limitations of current safety measures.

Boren strives to build authentic relationships with her students so they feel safe, cared for and successful.

“She’s a very genuine person, and she really tries to reach all her students and make personal connections with everyone,” Kaylee said. “She really likes to tell us, “See a need, fill a need,” so if you see something that needs to be done or a person that needs help, you should reach out to them and try to help them.”

Students are drawn to Boren for her passion and her supportive and uplifting nature.

“Rae is the type of teacher that has all of the students in her room for academic makeup time and after school,” Benson said. “Kids feel and recognize Rae's energy, compassion and her understanding heart.”

Her popularity and fun-loving nature earned Boren an invitation to participate in the CHHS ballroom team’s “Dancing with the Stars” show this October. She and dance partner Tyler McGee wowed audiences with a cha-cha. 

“I was the oldest contestant by a long way, and with Tyler's help, I was able to stick a backflip—in heels no less!” she said. “Even though I'm still so sore and it feels like I have some ribs stuck in my liver, I would totally do it again.”

When she’s not dancing or teaching ASL classes, Boren heads the world languages department at CHHS and is a mentor and instructional coach for provisional teachers. Previously, she was an adviser for student government. She is also involved in several professional associations for teaching foreign language.

Ultimately, Boren just loves to be able to make a difference.

“I truly believe that a teacher's impact can last years, sometimes even a lifetime,” she said. “I just think you can't measure the impact of a teacher; it's too great. So, I'm really grateful to be in a profession that I know I can have a lasting impact. I know that and I've seen it happen. I'm literally making a difference, and I think that there's something intrinsically so fulfilling about.”