ALAMEDA -- Tracy Corbally, an English teacher at Alameda Science and Technology Institute, had a spontaneous reaction when she learned she has been named 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year in the district.
She screamed. The student who was taking a make-up test in her classroom jolted. A parent came running to see what had happened.
Of course, it was a happy scream. Corbally couldn't stop grinning.
"Until now, my favorite award was for being named the funniest 11th grade teacher at Castlemont High," she said.
The mother of two Paden Elementary School students, Corbally has been teaching at the magnet school, located at College of Alameda, for five years, following a six-year stint at Castlemont.
The science and technology institute is an early college magnet four-year high school located at College of Alameda, where the 11th- and 12th grade students attend both high school and college courses at College of Alameda.
Corbally said one of her major focuses is helping students develop critical thinking skills.
"I try to help them how to listen and understand what they hear and read and not take things at face value," she said. "They need to be able to clearly communicate, including with people who potentially have more power than them. It's not just to become good employees, but to become wise people."
Corbally's road to becoming a teacher took a while. She worked her way through City College in San Francisco tending bar at Café Du Nord. She continued to work, but scholarships helped lighten the load when she started classes at Mills College. All told, it was an eight-year journey and when it was done, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
Institute Principal Steven Fong said Corbally takes her profession very seriously.
"She is always looking for the next piece of curriculum to make whatever is good great," Fong said. "She has gotten students involved in online research and takes them out of classroom."
He said Corbally has reached out more than once to individual students and their families having tough times and helped them obtain social services.
"I'm really thrilled for her to get some recognition," he said. "She is the Island's best-kept secret."
One of Corbally's roughly 100 students, graduating senior Ruby Rew, said, "I always had a strong student-teacher connection with her.
"She cared about my confidence in my work and in myself," Rew said. "She cares so much about her students and not just as students, but as people. Ask any student on campus. And she's funny. She has helped me so much in getting into Mills through some tough times. And, she's funny."
Rew has been admitted to Mills and will start classes in fall. She will work full time during the summer and plans to work and go to school after classes start.
Corbally will be formally recognized at the May 28 school board meeting, as will Teacher of the Year finalists Andrea Hardman and Marc Jaeger from Otis Elementary School and Michael Lamb from Alameda High School.
In the fall, Tracy will compete to become Alameda County Teacher of the Year.
Teachers of the Year are nominated by parents, students, staff and the community.
A committee conducts interviews, class visits and makes the final decision.