By Cathi Douglas
No one was surprised when fifth-grade teacher Todd Hoffman from John S. Malcom Elementary recently was honored as one of the world’s exceptional educators.
After all, Hoffman was Malcom’s 2021 Teacher of the Year, so it wasn’t surprising that he made the top seven out of 4,000 nominees in the Giving Joy contest sponsored by Norwegian Cruise Lines.
“What this honor says to me is that it is extraordinary when teachers go out of their way to give joy, to become exemplary in their field, and work hard to connect with students through the challenges of the pandemic,” Malcom Principal Laurie Lowy said.
Hoffman, who lives in Laguna Niguel, has had other careers, including working in TV news, but knew teaching was in his blood. Now in his fourth year at Malcom, he has been with the Capistrano Unified School District for 20 years.
“The power of creating self-esteem in others drew me to teaching,” Hoffman explains. “The joy of teaching is helping students to become better citizens.”
He was nominated anonymously by a student and the student’s family for the Giving Joy honor, and then solicited additional support from past students, their families, and parents.
“The thing that amazed me was that thousands and thousands of teachers were nominated, and I landed in the top 7,” he said.
After such a challenging academic year, “we are so happy to provide these unsung heroes with a well-deserved cruise vacation,” said Harry Sommer, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Lines. “We have heard phenomenal stories about how these selfless educators are going above and beyond to impact their students’ lives and their service couldn’t be more inspiring.”
Hoffman chalked up the seventh-highest votes across the United States and Canada. In addition, he was the most nominated teacher in California. The Giving Joy honor includes a seven-day cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Hoffman plans to leave this spring for the Caribbean from Miami.
“This honor has been a rewarding experience because it focused me,” he explains. “I believe there’s a relationship between travel and education. This focused me on the power of joy and sharing that within the classroom, forcing me to reflect on my teaching and the power of creating joy.”
“I can’t think of a better way to make a lasting impact than to send students into the world with healthy self-esteem,” he adds.
One way he does that is in November, Hoffman says, when the class celebrates a month of gratitude, ending with a gratitude feast including children and their families expressing the reasons they’re grateful in their lives.
In the future, he wants to concentrate on preparing students to be happy, compassionate citizens dedicated to giving back to the community.
One of his former students, Maxim, wrote that if he had to choose any teacher to have another year with, he’d choose Hoffman.
“Sure, the fun theme days, pizza party celebrations, and having a rubber chicken as our class pet made coming to school fun,” he wrote, “but I got something better. I got what felt like a second family – teammates who cheered me on and wanted me to succeed.”
Another student wrote that Hoffman “is one of those rare teachers that hopefully you are lucky enough to get once in your life. He changes his students for the better by helping them to believe in themselves and giving each of them the confidence to take on challenges with a can-do attitude.”
Hoffman says one of his top goals is to create a resilient mindset in his students.
“That is one of the biggest gifts I can give our community and country,” Hoffman said. “I want to continue planting seeds today for students to spread kindness and create more unity.”
Once he retires, he plans to continue teaching online and travel to different destinations. Already a world traveler, Hoffman has visited everywhere from Europe to South America to Australia, including an African safari. He is planning a trip to Thailand during the Thanksgiving break.
“I’m always up for a new challenge,” he says.
Lowy describes Hoffman as a teacher who is always looking for ways to learn and improve; he is first to sign up for new training and consistently tries to get out of his comfort zone. Those traits played a big part in his teaching success during the isolation wrought by the coronavirus.
“With so many students at home during the pandemic, it was important to keep them engaged – a lot of kids were scared and nervous. I wanted to be a sense of comfort and grounding for families and kids, so I welcomed the opportunity to learn new ways to reach kids through the computer screen,” Hoffman said.
Now that students have returned to classrooms, Hoffman says, he relishes their growth and creativity.
“The one-on-one and team aspects of the classroom are really rewarding,” he notes. “The classroom is my favorite place to be.”
Lowy predicts many more years of successful teaching for Hoffman.
“He’ll continue to reinvent himself, learn new things, and challenge the status quo while becoming a mentor to other teachers,” she said.