Part of what makes childhood friends so treasured is that we feel like we know them from the ground up. After all, we experienced their backstory alongside them, allowing us to understand better than most anyone who our friends are now and how they got here.
For friends we make in adulthood, there’s always a bit more mystery to it—especially when we meet them while parenting young children, a time when our lives don’t really feel like they are about us at all.
These people may be/have been scientists, producers, educators, and financial advisers, but the context of our connection with them is decidedly more mundane when our conversations revolve around naps, bodily functions, and “play dates” that don’t always live up to their name.
This is why it gives me particular pleasure to introduce you to Bay Maker Tracey Ananmalay. Although she was nominated by Maryann Allison for being an especially devoted fifth grade teacher at Los Alamitos Elementary School in San Jose, Tracey and I share a close friendship made while in the trenches of parenting.
I welcomed the opportunity to line up the stories I knew of her formative years – and hear some new ones – to better understand why this woman is such a natural inspirer of young minds.
As Maryann explains in her nomination letter, “Somehow, with 30 students in a class, Mrs. A treats each one fairly, with kindness and patience, and yet still sees their individuality and the unique gifts they possess.”
“It isn’t only the straight A students, either. She encourages all of the kids to keep learning and being curious. Her students are so clearly her priority that adults may have to wait a minute to speak with her if she is having a moment with a student. She lets kids come in before and after school for extra help, to ask questions, or even to just hang out. She likes them and she gets them. Her values about reading and learning transmit to her students in a way that should last a lifetime. There is no reading assignment for homework because, as Mrs. A says, ‘we read because it’s a gift we give to ourselves.’ She is a true example of a lifelong learner. Who could ask for a better role model?” Maryann adds.
For Tracey, it all started when she became a swimming teacher and coach in high school. “If I had found a way to make a living teaching and coaching swimming, I never would have stopped. It was so gratifying to help the advanced swimmers push themselves to personal records and see the beginners gain confidence. And watching the children who struggled with mobility on land discover such a freedom of movement in water was inspiring,” she explains.
Her passion for teaching swimmers carried her throughout college, serving as part-time work that she combined with her full-time studies in computer science and physics at Wilfrid Laurier University. After her sophomore year, she transferred to Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and graduated with a BS in computer science.
Tracey met her husband Siva during this time and they got married one year after graduating. She held a variety of technology related jobs at Nortel, but soon felt the tug of teaching. Shortly after receiving her certification, Siva’s role with Nortel took them to Maidenhead, England, just outside of London. It became the perfect opportunity for Tracey to make her move from tech to teaching.
“This is where I got my education as a teacher,” Tracey explains about her experience at King Alfred School in London.
She joined the school in 1993, a few years before its centenary. While you might think such an established institution would be stuck in tradition, the school and its staff had a well-established reputation as being progressive. One early signal of that tradition for Tracey was that students called teachers by their first name, a stark contrast to her own upbringing as the daughter of a military pilot.
The school’s ethos went beyond the way a student addressed his or her teachers—the close relationship between teachers and students was woven throughout their policies and programs due to a strong belief that this connection is a fundamental part of a child’s education. The back and forth between the two made for a dynamic learning environment that formed deep and abiding relationships that lasted beyond the school years and made sure that each student’s path to growth was intrinsically understood.
“I wouldn’t be half the educator I am without my experience at King Alfred. I would be more black and white in the world, more rigid. And I would think I knew more than I do,” Tracey explains.
While teaching both staff and students, she continued her own studies and received her Master’s in IT in Education from the University of London Institute of Education. She studied alongside students from Greece, Spain, Ghana, and South Africa, which gave her an international perspective she continues to be grateful for.
After three years in England, which included the birth of her first son Jordon, the Ananmalay family moved back to Canada. Tracey worked for the Software Human Resources Council, managing a program to promote computer science careers to teachers and students. She juggled the demands of this work while raising Jordon and welcoming baby Eric to their family. Siva continued with Nortel until another opportunity within the company led them to the Bay Area in 2000.
In these years, parenting took center stage, but Tracey couldn’t let teaching slip too far from her heart and mind. She found the perfect outlet to volunteer with the Los Alamitos science committee, providing hands-on learning opportunities for kids to get excited about science through an annual science fair, bubble festival, lunch time ‘science sleuths,’ and a school garden. From there, she took a paid role funded by the PTA to lead science labs.
Eventually, she made things permanent by getting her California teaching credential in 2006 and becoming a full-time fifth grade teacher.
Part of her classroom magic over the past eleven years is in her ability to individualize instruction in a way that the most high achieving students in her class have the additional intellectual challenges to keep them growing and engaged while still serving the students in the middle and those who need remediation.
When asked how she juggles the growth of 30+ individuals each school year, Tracey credits a unique opportunity she had as a child when her father’s work with the Canadian Air Force relocated her family to Trenton across Lake Ontario from upstate New York.
In a small French school for military families, Tracey was placed in a split-level class of grades four through eight. It was here that she experienced firsthand that a flexible, customized education allows children to progress at their own pace. In Tracey’s case, this resulted in her skipping a grade level.
This personal understanding of reaching a child exactly where they are doesn’t go unnoticed by grateful students and their parents.
“The way Mrs. A connects with kids is unparalleled,” says Tracy Hoefer whose son Cameron was in her class four years ago. “Along with Tracey being on top of everything intellectually, as a parent we knew that our son was getting the best 5th grade education because of her dedication to her kids. She knew what each child was about and what made them tick. She had her hand on the pulse of their strengths and weaknesses and she made sure each child was embraced at whatever level they were comfortable with. Her enthusiasm for teaching really spoke to each child and made them want to learn. My son will never forget Mrs. A, for she really touched his heart in so many ways,” she adds.
Angela McDougal, another satisfied “customer” of Mrs. A’s magic agrees. “Tracey has known my son Jack since before he could walk, so to have her as his 5th grade teacher was unbelievable. At first I thought Jack was getting special attention because of our close relationship. However, after volunteering in the classroom I soon realized every single student was Mrs. A’s top priority! Her love for learning is absolutely contagious and any student lucky enough to have Mrs. A as their teacher will be forever changed.”
Another dimension of her excellence is in her modeling of the commitment of being a lifelong learner. As much as she commits her time and her energy to her current students, she is always involved in professional growth so that she can continue to improve for the sake of her school and students. She is currently pursuing National Board Certification, a multi-year commitment of classes and evaluations held by less than 5% of teachers nationally.
Additionally, Tracey has recently joined a chorus even though she was convinced until the age of 50 that she couldn’t sing well enough to consider the option. But shortly after David Bowie passed away, she saw a tribute to his music by Choir! Choir! Choir!, a Toronto-based drop-in choir, that moved her to action. The prospect of auditioning left her nervous and nauseated… until she had this thought: “I ask my students every day to be brave, make mistakes, and push themselves. Really? But not myself?” So she did it and is gratified beyond measure to bring music into her life in such a personal way through her work with Bay Area Showcase Chorus.
Tracey also advocates for curiosity, engaging her students with deep questions and conversations around all subject matters. “I started out thinking I would focus my career on teaching computer science, but now I can’t imagine not touching all aspects of a curriculum,” she says. Her classroom wall backs up her propaganda with a poster that reads: “Curiosity is the cure for boredom. There is no cure for curiosity.”
But beyond the imparting of knowledge – the part of her work that is explicitly stated in her job description – is her heart that connects so deeply to her students. “Every August I am filled with butterflies as big as theirs,” she explains. “I have just said goodbye to a group of 32 children whom I have spent a year connecting with. I get worried I won’t be able to build the same bond with a new class. But then I get excited to learn about their interests. Whether they come to me with a passion for science or literature or a sport—each of their interests morphs me and gives a new flavor to the dynamic. And then we grow together.”
Tracey credits so much of her happiness in the classroom to the teamwork she feels with her fellow fifth grade teachers, as well as the staff at large at Los Alamitos.
It is for this reason and all that goes on in her classroom that we are proud to call Tracey Ananmalay a Bay Maker. She is the kind of teacher, colleague, friend, and neighbor who makes our community stronger by bringing heart and smarts to the children touched by her commitment to her profession. It’s no secret that this makes her family and longtime friends — whether formed in childhood or while in the parenting trenches — proud as punch to claim her as one of their nearest and dearest.