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Pasadena teacher surprised with $25,000 award

January 31, 2012 |  1:04 pm

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Manuel Rustin sat in a crowded auditorium at John Muir High School in Pasadena on Tuesday enjoying an assembly he helped organized, thinking that the cameras and education officials were there to honor the students for their achievements. 

After 20 minutes of presenters, including State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, lauded the students for academic gains followed by a cheerleading performance and an ROTC salute, the real reason for the assembly was revealed.

It was all for Rustin.

Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, announced that Rustin, a world history and economics teacher, had received the Milken Educator Award -- in which high-performing teachers receive $25,000, no strings attached.

As his name was called, his head dropped between his knees. He was shocked. The students surrounding him jumped to their feet.

Milken said the foundation awards the prize as a way to honor talented teachers, offering them a reward for a job exceedingly well done.

Rustin said the true gift he gets from teaching, though, is seeing how he can shape students and their future. "Being a teacher is one of the most rewarding professions that you can have -- just being able to connect with people every day and trying to motivate people to do their best," he said. "It beats anything."

Students and teachers at the school say he was deserving of the recognition, as he has made a difference on their campus.

"He took a leadership role since the days he stepped foot on the campus," said Roland Bynum, an English teacher.

Dodanim Oliveres, 18, a senior at John Muir said, "Mr. Rustin teaches in a way that most teachers don't.  He talks about his experiences and gets on a personal level."

[For the recored 1:30 p.m. Jan. 31: A previous version of this post said Manuel Rustin was a teacher at Pasadena High School.]

-- Angel Jennings in Pasadena