Exceptional teachers are excited about their discipline and can show students how lessons apply to real life. That was the lesson learned at the September Kansas State Board of Education meeting in Topeka.
Two Kansas National Finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching were given nearly an hour to speak and discuss their teaching with the Board. Each had received $10,000 from the National Science Foundation and attended a conference in Washington, DC last May.
Carrie Newdigger, high school biology teacher at Macksville High School, USD 351, was the finalist in science. She combined her enthusiasm for science with teaching biology and chemistry concepts through food preparation.
Steven Obenhaus, high school advanced math teacher at Olathe North High School, USD 233, was the finalist in mathematics, and likewise stressed the applications of every math lesson.
When a Board member pointed out Obenhaus’s enthusiasm that could hardly be contained behind
the podium, he confessed his students also told him: “Calm down Mr. Obenhaus. It’s only math!”
That enthusiasm from both teachers produced students who pursued advanced coursework and projects.
Unfortunately, some lessons from these teachers were probably missed by some Board members. The teachers were asked: did they get any teaching ideas from “KERC” (Kansas Education Resource Center), a Kansas State Department of Education online resource that posts lesson plans. And did they post any of their wonderful lessons on that same website?
Neither award-winner had heard of the website, nor did they express any enthusiasm for posting lesson plans on it. As much as Board members wanted to spread the skills and enthusiasm they saw in these teachers, to other teachers, websites are irrelevant. A skilled musician can perform a moving musical piece with great emotion, but the performance and emotion simply doesn’t translate onto a printed sheet of music. In the same manner, the teaching performance skills of these teachers, and their emotional involvement in teaching, cannot be transferred into online lesson plans.
As a student teacher supervisor, I have known candidates who could write wonderful lesson plans but could not teach the lesson. And I know excellent teachers who write poor lesson plans. Writing and teaching are not the same skills.
Another missed lesson was that neither award winning teacher was taking any direction from the state science or math standards. They taught excellent lessons in spite of the standards.
Following the award-winning teachers, the State Board heard a report on the MultiTiered Support System where a KSDE staffer explained that the day was gone when a teacher could close their classroom door and teach as they wished.
The next generation of potential enthusiastic student teachers see the contradiction, and are choosing another field.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia, KS.