Last week, I had the pleasure of catching up with the 2008 National Teacher of the Year. He was completely gracious, funny and passionate about teaching. I hope some of you get a chance to hear him speak before his "term" ends in May. Until then, check out the excerpt from our interview to judge for yourself.
Describe experience as teacher of the year
It’s been crazy really, life-changing upheaval, but in a good way for the most part. It’s been challenging; it’s been fun; it’s been, at times, boring; kind of the whole gamut. But it’s exciting to feel like I have a voice in education and in the larger policy world as well to some extend, and to have folks really want to know what I think and they’re listening, which is unusual for a middle school teacher. It’s kind of scary actually – God people are paying attention. I better say something good.
It’s been a unique and incredible experience. I’m not trying to recommend it to everybody, but it’s been really good.
What do you miss most about the classroom?
It was weird this year, starting school and not having school. Thinking that all my colleagues were there and my former students were heading back to school and I wasn’t there. Mostly I just miss that daily relationship with middle school kids. There’s just a certain energy they have that I really thrive on. It doesn’t exactly get me out of bed in the morning, because I’m not a morning person at all, but once I get to school, kids start actually coming in, there’s an energy you don’t get as much with adults. I really miss that. It wears me out obviously and I collapse in my bed at night after I’m done at night, but there’s just that fresh, curious, creative, random energy they have….
I miss that fresh, creative aspect of what I do because every day is a different show, a different performance and I get to see the performances of my students everyday. It doesn’t have that same spark of creativity that I’m used to.
What’s the best lesson you've ever taught?
So many different crazy things that we do, from incorporating theater and the arts and music into scientific concepts and things that kids come up with….
The human brain craves new experiences and novelty. If you think about how we, as biological creatures, we get used to stuff and we don’t see or sense it anymore. Think about smells. We lived next to a dairy for awhile. At first, it was like “oh my gosh,” but within a few weeks we didn’t notice it at all…My goal is not to have my classroom be like that dairy where the kids just come in an not notice it. They should come in and go “What’s that smell? What are we doing today?” metaphorically speaking, of course.
What has been your best moment as a teacher?
[After a lesson on gravity] A student of mine named Janay stood up from her chair at the end of the day and said: “Ya know, that was some of the most interesting stuff I’ve ever learned.” She had never expressed a whole lot of interest in science. It wasn’t her favorite class. It wasn’t a topic she was all that thrilled about, but to say that, that’s what I want to hear. To be honest, I don’t really care if she got it and understood it and had the right answer. The fact that she was inspired by that and was excited about learning. That little kernel sums up why I teach.
Sum up your teaching philosophy in one sentence:
There’s a quote that sums it up
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea”– Antoine de Saint Exupery
We really need to inspire our students to create, to want to create and want to learn.
Now it's you're turn: what was your favorite moment teaching? Share in the comments section.