Outstanding Educator Award 2015

Matthew Goetz
English
Beijing National Day School
Beijing, China

Read his story

Why did you decide to enter the field of education?

I entered the field of education because I believe that education is the most powerful tool in affecting positive social change. I had the honor of serving as an officer in the United States Navy for four years during which time I worked with humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations throughout Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean. Whether in Liberia, Nicaragua, or Haiti, I witnessed firsthand the power of education to instill hope amid trauma: to inspire people living with loss that they have the ability to make a positive difference.

What qualities or characteristics does it take to be an outstanding educator?

To be an outstanding educator, one must be passionate about their subject matter, reflective about their practice, and endlessly positive in supporting students. My excitement about finding uniquely challenging, timely, and relevant texts proves infectious.

An outstanding educator must also be reflective about their practice, honestly identifying strengths and limitations of their instruction and assessment. To help me with this, students complete an anonymous feedback form at the end of every week. I also ask students about the biggest non-academic stressor in their lives. While not always insightful, learning about a death in one’s family or a university rejection letter lets me know when might be a good time to pause instruction and have a heart-to-heart with my students about life.

Finally, an outstanding educator must be endlessly positive in supporting students. To have a truly generative classroom, all students need to feel safe to offer their perspectives when co-constructing knowledge with their classmates. Within our learning community, I join students in clapping and cheering for one another, practicing appreciative inquiry where we celebrate each text while still asking questions of it, assuming good intentions about feedback, discussing ideas instead of persons, and being intentional about using I-Language: “I am confused by your point,” instead of, “Your point is confusing.”

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

One of my goals is to become unnecessary to my students’ learning, and it is the most rewarding part of my job when I can remain silent in class and observe education happening without me. It takes time and dedication to teach the skills necessary to reach this point in the classroom. But most of all, it takes humility, and I struggle at times with the idea of backing-off: that my students can perform well without me being part of it. Nevertheless, these moments remain the most rewarding part of my work as an educator.

What skills or mindsets do you want your students to leave your classroom having acquired?

When students leave my classroom, I want them to believe that they can make a positive difference in the world. To do this, they must first seek to understand who they are, what the power of privilege is that they bring with them, and how the language they use has the ability to encourage or oppress others. Second, they have to become Critical Consumers of Culture, learning to interrogate the materials to which they are exposed daily. More important than these skills of analysis and evaluation, however, I hope that my students will continue to be genuinely kind and caring people when they leave my classroom, in order to make a positive difference in the world.


Marius Radulescu
Math
Morgan Park Academy
Chicago, IL

 

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Why did you decide to enter the field of education?

I have embraced teaching as a chance to inspire and empower. I come from a family of teachers and they were my early model in life. Socrates was my first exemplary teacher. His wisdom reached my soul by the gentle mediation of the other exemplary teacher in my life, my father. I was fascinated by how Socrates unfailingly met a question with another question, creating a continuous dialogue in which thinking could critically and logically shape one’s intellect. When I understood that it takes more to ask a good question than it does to answer it, I decided on my possible future as an educator.

What qualities or characteristics does it take to be an outstanding educator?

Ideally, being an outstanding math educator translates into being an equally competent mathematician. I love searching for new problems and teaching about new directions. Practice, reflection and originality are qualities that keep a teacher actively engaged. In my case, I could narrow the field down to two features that keep my work efficient: mathematical clarity and the intellectual quest for new problems and applications.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I encourage students to challenge existing boundaries by teaching them how to transform a difficult mathematical situation into a familiar problem. Many times, the act of learning happens by inferring something new from what students already know. The minutes spent in collecting their live feedback lead to such unique experiences and implausible intellectual satisfaction.

What skills or mindsets do you want your students to leave your classroom having acquired?

As a mathematician, I love to search for new problems and to teach about them. I like seeing my students leaving my courses with an inherited sensitivity for math research and a life-long approach to knowledge that employs the mathematician’s tools of thinking: logic, rigor, and imagination.


Ellen Ferguson
English
Montclair Kimberley Academy
Montclair, NJ

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Why did you decide to enter the field of education?

I entered the field because I like the subjects of reading and writing. I never wanted to teach anyone young enough to believe everything I said—I value healthy student skepticism. So, I always thought I would be a college professor since I thought older students would be a better match for my lack of subject area mastery. However, I entered the field of high school education (where you actually have to know what you are talking about) because it suited my needs as a mother.

What qualities or characteristics does it take to be an outstanding educator?

I really enjoy saying when I do not know something. It is important to be able to model imperfection for students. How boring it would be if we all knew everything! I am quite gazelle-like in my dexterity when it comes to showing how much I do not know.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

It is rewarding when there is a moment of real intellectual joy, an epiphany, and we all feel it. Life is meant to be lived fully, and too many examples of living life fully have to do with recreation or non-intellectual fun. A little goofy celebration over word play or some silly inside joke about the eighteenth century couplet is just good and nerdy and cerebral.

What skills or mindsets do you want your students to leave your classroom having acquired?

Part of success is the ability to be true to yourself but live in the real world. Making deadlines, realizing that something is “good enough” to hand in, always doing your own work, and never, ever taking someone else’s idea without giving full credit — these are the things that make for a good life outside the classroom, which is what matters in the end.