Tahoe-Truckee Teacher of the Year: Cathy Tsaniff is fourth finalist | SierraSun.com

Tahoe-Truckee Teacher of the Year: Cathy Tsaniff is fourth finalist

Katie Fagundes
Special to the Bonanza
From left, Charlie Riley, Owner Truckee Hometown SEARS; Donner Trail Teacher of the Year Nominee Cathy Tansiff; and Michael Gelbman, Publisher, Sierra Sun/North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, with Tansiff's class on April 21.
Courtesy photo |

About the award

Now in its fourth year, the Truckee Hometown-SEARS/Sierra Sun Teacher of the Year program was created in 2011 to recognize the efforts of community teachers across Truckee, North Tahoe and Incline Village.

If you know a teacher who is making a lasting impact on students’ lives who you would like to thank, please nominate them for this year’s Teacher of the Year. Nominations can be emailed to: truckeetahoteacheroftheyear@gmail.com or dropped off at Truckee Hometown SEARS.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Cathy Tsaniff, teacher at Donner Trail Elementary School, has been selected as the fourth Teacher of the Year finalist.

First-year teacher Tsaniff brings excitement to her 2nd and 3rd graders and creates a caring and warm environment in her classroom.

Michael Gelbman, publisher of the Sierra Sun/Bonanza, and Charlie Riley, owner of Truckee Hometown Sears, presented Tsaniff with a certificates and award on April 21.

Donner Trail Elementary principal Susan Phebus describes Tsaniff as an engaging and caring teacher.

“I feel blessed, like I am in the right place now.”Cathy Tsaniff

“Her desire for her students to have fun while learning creates a classroom that is engaging for all her students,” said Phebus. “She truly cares about each one of her students and is sensitive to their needs.”

Originally from Southern California, Cathy Tsaniff moved to the Tahoe area about 9 years ago. Her children started school at Donner Trail, and Tsaniff begin volunteering in their classrooms.

Tsaniff continued working in the school’s office and as a bus driver, before returning to her career as a CPA.

Her time in Donner Trail Elementary, however, had a lasting impact. Tsaniff wanted to become a teacher.

“I saw the transformation teachers did with the kids, watched them flourish and grow,” said Tsaniff. “I was blown away from the experiences and thought, this is what it is all about, this is what I need to do.”

After working four years in Reno as a CPA, Tsaniff decided it was time to make a career change. She returned to Donner Trail Elementary and was able to secure a position as an administrative assistant while earning her teaching credential from Sierra Nevada College.

This year has been her first as a credentialed classroom teacher, working in a second- and third-grade mixed level class. Tsaniff describes her feelings about her first year in one word: humbled.

“Everything is incredible. I am so grateful to take what I have learned and use it with the kids,” said Tsaniff. “Humbled, that really is the best word for it. I feel blessed, like I am in the right place now.”

Parents and students agree that Tsaniff is in the right place teaching at Donner Trail.

“She has helped two shy, sweet, smart little girls blossom and I have enjoyed seeing their personalities shine through the help of such a caring and loving teacher,” wrote one parent nominator.

“She teachers me phonics and math, she helps me have good self-esteem, she is very caring,” wrote one student. “I am very thankful that Mrs. Tsaniff is my teacher.”

Tsaniff’s accounting background has made her particularly well-equipped for teaching math. She enjoys finding ways to make math fun, enjoyable and hands on.

However, Tsaniff has developed a passion for helping her young students become good writers this year, as principal Phebus notes.

“They continuously write; however her prompts are engaging for her students,” said Phebus.

Tsaniff recognizes that writing is a difficult skill to master, but has so many real world applications. She has loved being able to see the students progress over the course of the year.

“I love seeing how much progress they have made since the beginning of the year,” said Tsaniff.

Tsaniff explains that her and her student’s achievements would not be possible without support of her incredible colleagues at Donner Trail.

“I work with two other teachers who help me with whatever I need,” said Tsaniff. “They are great role models and I just try to absorb everything.”

Tsaniff credits much of her success to the time she spent volunteering at the school years ago. The same teachers who inspired her to make a career change, gave her the knowledge to know what to expect teaching this year.

She appreciates all of the support she has received from the entire staff and principal Phebus.

“They believe in me, which helps me be the best I can be each day,” said Tsaniff.

Tsaniff is thrilled to have had such a successful first year and be recognized by parents and students with this nomination.

“I feel really lucky,” said Tsaniff. “To know parents see I am trying to help kids, that’s all I need.”