Global Teacher Prize finalist Joe Fatheree talks about what great teachers do. He shares his observations and also his hopes for improving the profession.
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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
3 Things Great Teachers Do
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Introducing Joe Fatheree
Vicki: So today we’re continuing our recording at NNSTOY, the National Network for State Teachers of the Year.
We have Joe Fatheree @josephfatheree with us! He is a 2016 Global Teacher Prize Top Ten Winner. He does a lot of work with NNSTOY, and he is actually a full time classroom teacher teaching creativity and innovation.
But Joe, you and I today are going to talk about, “What do great teachers have in common?” because you know and have worked with so many amazing teachers.
Where teaching is today
Joe: Well, I’m excited, because I look out at the world, and we have – UNESCO says, by 2030, we have a teacher shortage of 25.8 million teachers. And that concerns me. What’s the next generation? Where are they going to look to for teachers?
I do a survey of my students every year. It used to be 30-40% of my kids wanted to be a classroom teacher. In the last 4-5 years, I’m down to about 3-4% of my student population.
So I look at these kids who are getting ready to come out of high school. They’re creative. They’re on fire. They want to change the world. They want to leave it in a better place than they were given.
They have all the right components in their heart, but they’re not looking at teaching as a profession.
On the flip side, I look at all the amazing teachers that I work with around the world. Many of them have been recognized at the highest level. Many of them will unfortunately never be recognized, but they have the same attributes.
So I’m trying to figure out… what’s the missing link here? Why do these great kids not see the career path that great teaching can provide them?
So I am looking forward to having a conversation with you – a little bit, about that today – about what those attributes look like.
#1 Great teachers have a deep love for giving back to children
Vicki: OK. So what DO they look like?
Joe: I think the first one is… Just an incredible deep love for giving back to kids. Yesterday, we had Stephen Ritz at the conference from the Green Bronx Machine. Steven lives and works in the South Bronx. He talks about it being a very challenged and challenging disenfranchised community. But they’re still people. They’re people who love their kids, they love their community.
- Read or listen to the interview with Stephen Ritz “This Amazing South Bronx School Grows 50,000 Pounds of Vegetables a Year”
Work is a very difficult proposition because of the unemployment rates. But they want to give back and do things. But Steven has found passion in his kids. He’s finding ways to connect with these kids.
We had a group of these young men here. They participated in a National Fellowship for Black Male Teachers. One of the guys was talking about this deep love to give back to kids of color. He wants to be that Black male role model.
What the healthy, appropriate love of a teacher for children looks like
Joe: So everybody, I think, has their different “flavor” of love, the reason they got into teaching. But it all comes back to this fundamental piece about how they LOVE KIDS.
We had a conversation around the dinner table this morning about a teacher who had lost a student in a traumatic accident a couple of years ago. She was very articulate about the fact that, “That was MY child.”
Joe: You know, that’s how we see them. We see them as an extension of our family. So I think first of all it’s that great love.
Vicki: And there are a lot of people who have a hard time mentioning that. Obviously, there’s different kinds of love, and there are some teachers who have an inappropriate type. But we’re talking just a deep – almost parental – I mean, you know, we can never pretend to be parents. But for me, I just feel like they’re almost my kids.
Vicki: How do you feel?
Joe: Well, exactly. I think the great teachers around…. There’s definitely this “wall” that’s out there that you just… There’s unfortunately these inappropriate things, and you don’t want to minimize the impact that they have because they’re terrible incidents. But that’s not where the bulk of the teaching world is.
Joe: The bulk of the teaching world is about giving back and making sure the next generation is successful.
Joe: I see teachers every day giving everything they have to ensure that these kids are successful.
So I think that’s the first piece. Just your giving of yourself. And you’re working with each individual child. They all come in with, you know, their individual talent sets and their weaknesses that we have to shore up. But the great teachers find a way to elevate the great ones to new heights. And the ones that are struggling, to find their strengths and build them up.
I always like to focus on the positive and deal with the negative. I think great teachers find ways to do that.
#2 Great Teachers find “out of the box” ways to work with and inspire every child
Vicki: What’s next? What else?
Joe: I love the fact that we have teachers that really find “out of the box” ways to work and inspire each child.
We live right now in a world that the educational systems are very rigid. At least here in the United States, and a lot of school systems around the country. And I don’t think they were ever intended to be that way. So we have a lot of people that are out there, and they’re lambasting this or that. It’s just where we’re at. It’s just this system development over time.
You have 300+ million people who have 300+ million ideas about how education is. This is what we’ve agreed upon. But it doesn’t always necessarily work in the everyday environment.
So great classroom teachers understand how to look outside of the box. I think what we do — you know, as classroom teachers when we went through our pre service training — we were skilled in the science of teaching. You continue to get trained in the science of teaching throughout the course of your career.
But what I love about great teachers – the world changers – They’re masters in the art of teaching, and I think that’s the real magic in the classroom.
They know how to look at each situation and find ways to inspire and engage kids, no matter what the subject matter or no matter what curriculum you’re looking at. (Despite) issues with it – budget issues you have in school… they find ways to be successful. That doesn’t make it OK for those shortfalls to be there, or for our system to be rigid, because those things need to change. But I really appreciate those teachers that have learned how to go above and beyond to create that magic in a classroom.
#3 Great Teachers bring their authentic selves into the classroom
Vicki: And don’t you find that it’s when many of those teachers bring their own personal interests and love into the classroom?
I mean, I remember… (when I was) judging the Global Teacher Prize, you get to see a lot of the different types of teachers. And I remember – you know, one teacher was dancing, and one teacher was doing this or that. And it’s almost like a little personal spark of themselves that comes into the classroom to make it unique.
Joe: Even a kindergarten student can tell whether you’re a phony.
Some of the smartest people in the world are four.
Joe: And they just know, when you come in the classroom whether you’re real and authentic and you want to be there for them.
Joe: And so whenever you’re able to peel those layers away, and you bring YOU to the classroom. The kids know that you’re in it with them.
And it’s not just like, “I’m assigning this just to assign it. There’s a purpose with it. Mr. Fatheree’s going to be with it the entire way.”
Sometimes (it’s) leading from the front, but most of the times, (I’m) supporting from the back, and giving them a platform to showcase and to do things.
I think that’s the real trick. (For)a lot of people early on in their careers, that’s difficult because you’re still defining who you are as a person. You’re looking to emulate the people around you. But I think at some point in time, you’ve just got to be YOU.
I know for me, in my second year of teaching, I was asked to teach English to low level learners. And a lot of these kids were 17 and 18 years of age. They had second/third grade reading levels. Attendance was a real issue. Discipline problems were just everyday occurrences.
What I was given was the traditional English curriculum. I had these aspirations that every kid loved to diagram sentences…
Joe: … and they all went home at night and had adjective and adverb parties where they all got together and figured those things out.
And that was a mistruth. And so what I had to do was strip things back.
We integrated hip hop music into the classroom. I had to bring a little bit of my personality in and become more real, and hop up there and sing with them, and be off key, and you know… let them have a little fun with me in the classroom.
Because then it became OK for them to make mistakes.
Let’s get rid of this big lie about teachers
So, as we finish up, if there was one lie that you think many people in the world believe about teachers – that you could completely erase out of all of these brains – what would that lie be, that you would want to just completely get rid of?
Joe: I think that the biggest one I would have to deal with is that teachers don’t care.
We have to tell the story of how amazing teachers really are!
Joe: And if the general public (thinks)… and as teachers, I think it’s incumbent upon us to do a better job of telling the story of what we do. Most of the teachers take a back seat. They never tell all the stories of the money they donate to the schools, the unbelievable countless hours they spend way above and beyond the call of duty… Just the “A game” that they bring to school every day.
And the care they have, not only for the kids, but for the kids’ parents and their communities.
So, I guess, if anything, what I’d love to be able to do is to stand before people and paint this picture of what a real classroom teacher looks like. I’d like to let people see how the bulk of America’s teaching force really is, and how they care for your kids, and how they want them to find success in the next years.
Vicki: Yeah. And that’s really part of the purpose of the show, is to have a 10-Minute-Teacher Show five days a week, because I think when you sit back and you look at the amazing profession of teachers…
There are so many amazing teachers out there!
But you know, it’s so challenging to get people to come on this show to be interviewed because most teachers say, “I’m just a teacher. There’s nothing special.” And they don’t understand their existence – that they show up every day, the fact that they love kids? That’s special.
Teaching is a fantastic profession!
Joe: In 29 years in my career, I now look back with kids that I’ve mentored all over the world. They are community leaders. They’re doctors. They’re lawyers. They’re farmers.
And I got to be a part – literally a part – of building community. And I watched it in real time in my eyes. And there is no other job on the planet that gives you that satisfaction – not just when they’re 10 and in your classroom, but when they’re 18 and 38 and they’re still doing things.
And you walk into their place of business, and it’s immediately – you still have that same respect – because they know what you gave to them and continue to give to them.
Joe: So I think it’s the most exciting job on the planet.
And I would just encourage people who are listening to go beyond the classroom. If your children are looking for careers, teaching is a tremendous career opportunity for them. We’d love to have them join hands with us.
Vicki: And it starts with all of us, treating this wonderful profession with respect. Sharing powerful stories of what teachers are doing. Teachers and our students are very remarkable.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Bio as submitted
Joe Fatheree serves as NNSTOY's Director of Strategic Projects. His primary responsibilities include the coordination of state chapters, STEM, virtual circles and NNSTOY Fellows, video production and technology support. He continues to serve as the instructor of Creativity and Innovation at Effingham High School located in Effingham, Illinois.
Joe is also an award winning educator and filmmaker. Prior to this position, he served as a founding board member for Advance Illinois. During his tenure at Advance Illinois, he served on the executive committee, legislative committee, and chaired the Educator Advisory Committee. He also served on a professional development committee for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2015, Joe was selected by the United States Department of Education to serve as an official delegate to the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.
He has received numerous educational awards over the course of his career. In 2016, he was recognized as a Top 10 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize. He was recognized as Illinois Teacher of the Year in 2007, and as the recipient of the NEA’s National Award for Teaching Excellence in 2009. He is a former president of the Illinois Teacher of the Year organization.
Joe’s television work has aired nationally on PBS, The Documentary Channel, the Major League Baseball Network, and Hulu. As a producer he has received three Mid-America Emmy awards, two for producing and one for writing. He served as a senior developer on The Composition Book Jam and has authored numerous articles and blogs.
|Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.)
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