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 From Intern to Teacher of the Year

This year’s San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) Teacher of the Year, Doug Connor, has deep roots at 6th Grade Camp.

The teacher at Cuyamaca Outdoor School first fell in love with nature in 1983 when he spent a week at SDCOE’s Camp Palomar with his classmates from Darnall Elementary School. The experience was magical, he said.

“That really got me going,” he said. “After that, I went to any camp I could.”

When he was 15, Connor became a counselor-in-training at summer camps. A few years later, he was one of the first interns at 6th Grade Camp.

As he started working more with students, he realized he had a knack for education.

“Doug is a very talented teacher,” said Greg Schuett, principal at Cuyamaca Outdoor School. “It is obvious to anyone fortunate enough to observe Doug teach that he loves his job, his students, and the program.”

Connor was hired as an outdoor education specialist in 1994 and worked at all three 6th Grade Camp sites open at the time: Camp Palomar, Camp Fox, and Camp Cuyamaca, now known as Cuyamaca Outdoor School.

In 1999, he decided to go back to college to get a teaching credential. Because of the unusual hours at camp, he took a job with Outdoor Education’s outreach team overseeing the Splash Science Mobile Lab.

When he got his teaching credential in 2005, he took an opportunity to see the world, teaching 1st-graders in Mongolia and Guatemala for five years.

“It was exciting (teaching overseas),” he said. “I got to see different cultures and make lifelong friends.”

He and his family returned to San Diego in 2010. He worked as a substitute teacher for a year before getting the job he has now.

As one of four head teachers at Cuyamaca Outdoor School, Connor is in charge of developing curriculum and training for seven outdoor specialists at the school. He also leads songs every morning and helps with student discipline and homesickness issues.

“Doug considers it his duty to ensure that his students have a wonderful, life-changing experience each and every week,” Schuett said. “That is a huge undertaking requiring enormous energy, patience, skill, and dedication.”

Connor found out that he was SDCOE’s teacher of the year on March 17, the 70th anniversary of 6th Grade Camp. That made the honor even more special, he said.

He’s hoping to use the attention he gets as SDCOE teacher of the year to let people know about the important work going on at Cuyamaca Outdoor School, which connects nearly 12,000 students each year to science and nature during weeklong excursions that feature hands-on lessons and enrichment activities.

“I’m excited to be here for the students,” he said. “A lot of these kids have never been to the outdoors before.”

Looking back, Connor said he’s happy to have the opportunity to be part of the leadership at the school after starting as an intern and working his way up.

“I’ve kind of come full circle,” he said. “It’s cool.”