ELA teacher, 2011 Kansas Teacher of the Year
(Wamgeo Middle School — Wamego, KS)
Resource of the Week:
Segment I – Background and Inspiration
Tell your story. Where are you from and how long have you been teaching? What classes have you taught?
– Curtis has taught for 17 years, just outside of Topeka, Kansas. He is at Wamego Middle School but he is someone that moved a lot as a child because his father was in the military. Curtis was not a stellar student but he had a few teachers that encouraged him, put books in his hands, and allowed him to learn through creative activities.
Who has helped you in your journey to become a master teacher?
– He has been helped by a lot of talented professionals, like the Center for Teaching Quality. Yet, his first set of models were his parents. His mom was a teacher and his dad was military. He spent a lot of time overseas and his parents dragged him to every museum, attraction, cultural center to learn. His wife, a special education teacher, reminds him that some students may have exceptions but all students are exceptional. Finally, parenting has taught him a lot about teaching and teaching has taught him a lot about parenting.
It is important for other teachers to know that we all have had setbacks in the classroom. Identify an instance in which you struggled as a teacher and explain what you learned from that experience.
– His first year of teaching was a real struggle. He was working with struggling reader at a school near a military base. He assumed that a year with any kid would be long enough to fix their issues. He learned that education is a progressive act. It does not occur is a single year. He learned to desire constant improvement from himself and from his students.
Why is literacy important?
– Literacy is constantly involving and changing. Many of his students are doing all sorts of discourse on their own, many times collaborative. Our focus needs to evolve. We can’t think about preparing students for THE future, but THEIR future, which is increasingly technological, collaborative and highly literate.
What is one thing that you love about the classroom?
– When students take control of their own learning.
Segment II — Digging into the Teacher Bag of Goodies
What book do you recommend to a developing teacher?
— He tends to recommend the book that he is reading at the moment. The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. With the emergence of all this ground-breaking stuff — like social media — we need to harness the power of human creativity. This is a book that can help you consider how reform that focuses on “skill-and-drill” standardized tests and college education as status or mere vocational training. In the book, Gee laments that we have lost the true meaning of education in the service of personal enlightenment and broader social good.
What is one thing a teacher can do outside the classroom that can pay off inside the classroom?
— He gave a series of lectures and workshops about the un-classroom. Learning takes place as much outside the classroom as much as it does inside. Educators need to stay in touch with the learning process. One way to do this is to continuously force yourself to learn to do something new. It is hard to do this. We get reminded of the frustration of trying something difficult because that is what our students may be going through.
Is there an internet resource that you can recommend which will help teachers grow professionally?
– Curtis tries to read as much as possible in his own discipline. Also, Twitter allows him to participate in conversations about education. It forces him to think more and say less. Curtis also subscribes to podcasts that advance the conversations in education.
Provide a writing practice that is effective?
– He likes to write and he enjoys creating writing assignments that allow students to see the relevance of writing to their own lives. Writing helps channel their thinking. Writing should do what video games do, keep kids pleasantly frustrating.
Update the cannon. What book, written in the last 10-15 years, belongs in the classroom?
— For Curtis it is difficult to say. He has his favorites, but he does not like superimposing his preferences on his students. By keeping a finger on the pulse of pop culture we can have a better understanding of what to recommend to students. Lately he has had great success with The Kite Runner (10th Anniversary). But he believes we also need to consider all forms of media, film, podcasts, graphics, and others because we are living in a multi-faceted world full of media and various forms of media literacy.