Getting an education was not an easy task for Sacramento State alumnus Mark Fairbank. He struggled with a learning disability through elementary school and high school but never gave up his dream of being a teacher.
The extra effort required to overcome dyslexia, a condition in which letters can appear transposed, paid off though, and Fairbank recently won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
He is one of 103 teachers nationwide to receive the award. It is the country’s highest recognition given to K-12 math and science instructors.
“I understand why students struggle and why learning does not come easy to all,” Fairbank says. “The important aspect of teaching and learning is to assist students in developing strategies to learn and cope with the struggles of learning.”
Fairbank came to Sacramento State as a junior in 1978, receiving bachelor degrees in chemistry and physical sciences and a master’s in science education.
He taught physics and physical science at Elk Grove High School and later moved to Paso Robles High School, where he now is chair of the Science Department.
In addition to receiving a $10,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, awardees were honored at a White House recognition ceremony.
“Engineers who have led America on its remarkable path to success share something very precious: science and math teachers who brought these critical subjects to life,” President Barack Obama said in naming the recipients. “Today we honor some of the best of these teachers and thank them for their dedication.”
A commitment to education runs in the Fairbank family. His mother and father were teachers; his wife is Jane, whom he met at Sac State, is the principal at a private school; their oldest child is a speech and language therapist for a school district; and their other two children are pursuing teaching degrees.
“I have put my heart and soul into teaching young people,” Fairbank said upon winning the award. “My interactions with the students have provided me with a lifetime of memories. It is a privilege to be honored for something that is my joy and passion.”