Matt Leininger’s energetic approach to teaching physics shows his students exactly how much they matter. His apparent dedication and care for students are just a few of the reasons that the Alta High educator, who is affectionately called “Mr. L” by casts of Hawks, has been selected as the 2015 Canyons District Teacher of the Year.
Leininger, who also coaches robotics, swimming and tennis, was lauded during a Tuesday, April 28, 2015 ceremony hosted by the Canyons Board of Education. He was selected from a field of 46 Teachers of the Year
who had been nominated from every Canyons District school, including the academy at the Utah State Prison.
“He is just that type of teacher, that no matter the student that is in class, no matter their background, their demographic, he connects with all of his kids,” said Alta Principal Brian McGill. “He is what I would call an exemplary teacher in Canyons District and Alta High School.” Watch a video tribute to Leininger that was shown at Tuesday's ceremony to announce CSD's Teacher of the Year.
Leininger said his interest in teaching was piqued when he volunteered to mentor a Chinese student during his time at Brigham Young University. “My mom was a teacher so I thought, ‘Hey, I am going to look into teaching,’” he said. “They had me work for a semester with a little boy who only spoke Chinese … and I was able to teach him English, how to answer the phone, just basic things like that. That’s when I knew (teaching was) what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Alta students say he makes them smile and laugh and is constantly moving around his classroom and engaging with students. He also goes the extra mile to build bridges of understanding to difficult concepts. “I kind of struggle in his class,” said student Haris Sabic. “I am not, like, the best, but he is always there to help me.”
To Mr. L, however, it’s all about showing students genuine concern for their progress. “If you care about them, then they are interested in what you have to tell them,” he said. “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
At the event on Tuesday, which was attended by hundreds of friends, family and colleagues of the school-based Teachers of the Year, Leininger received a $1,000 cash award from the Canyons Education Foundation and a prize package full of items from generous local merchants.
The Board of Education also recognized two Teacher of the Year finalists — Bethany Smith, a teacher at Sandy Elementary, and Kattie Dewald, who teaches at Midvale Middle — at the special reception and recognitions event held in the Professional Development Center of the Canyons Support Services Center. Smith and Dewald received gifts and a $500 check from the Canyons Education Foundation.
As Canyons’ top teacher, Leininger will represent the District at the Utah Teacher of the Year contest, and compete for cash, prizes and national recognition.
“I am living the dream,” Leininger said. “And I really feel that way. I love this school. My kids are going here, my own personal children … I feel very blessed to be a part of this District. Specifically, to be in this classroom, at this school, at this time in my life.”