Teacher of the Year engages students’ lives

Hallie Pendergast

Michelle Shearer, National Teacher of the Year in 2011, spoke in front of hundreds of students, faculty and staff at the Kiva Tuesday night.

“Education was so central to Shearer’s life that she recognized at a young age she wanted to become a teacher,” said Kaleigh Bartula, president of the Kent Student Education Association.

Shearer grew up in Aurora and attended Princeton University. It was at Princeton where she began volunteering in a fourth grade classroom at a school for deaf students every Tuesday. Shearer found herself leaving the classroom and wishing she didn’t have to go.

Shearer said she didn’t realize how much she was going to learn from those students. The students helped her see that it was about their abilities, not their disabilities.

“They taught me that you need to look people in the eyes when you speak because people are important, especially in the student-teacher relationship,” Shearer said. “Don’t focus on the one sense they don’t have because there’s four other senses.”

Shearer said that many teachers ask her what the secret to teaching is. She said there is not just one secret, but it is most important to make teaching all about the students. It is crucial to care about another child’s education as you would care for your own.

Now that Shearer is an AP chemistry teacher at Urbana High School in Frederick, Md., her most important task is to teach the students how chemistry applies to them and to engage them. She engages the students by doing different experiments that can blow up, fizz or burn.

One of the experiments her students conducted was creating the green flu powder from the Harry Potter series. By creating experiments that the students are interested in, it is easier for them to understand why the experiments happen.

Shearer said the worst thing that can happen in her chemistry class is when she sees a student with a drop-out slip.

“All that matters is if I have a relationship with that student and that relationship better go pretty deep,” Shearer said. “They’re going to give me about 60 seconds to talk about it.”

Shearer believes we must keep students in school because it’s important for them to succeed in college, work and life. Teaching used to be about the “3 R’s,” an old saying for reading, writing and arithmetic.

However, Shearer said, now it’s not just about those subjects. It’s also about the “4 C’s,” which are critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration and communication.

With the continuous growth in technology it’s very easy for teachers to substitute technological tools for their teaching. Shearer said teachers are better than that and they have more impact on the students.

“Kids are still human beings. They have the right to current technology, but a computer cannot talk a student out of dropping a class,” Shearer said. “Computers cannot look a student in the eye and inspire them to be something more. There are tools, and there are teachers, and there is a difference.”

Shearer said she loves being a teacher even though it can be tiring. Teachers must always give off a positive energy, so the students stay engaged. But, the good energy is the reason why Shearer gets out of bed every morning.

“I never have to wonder whether what I do makes a difference,” Shearer said.

Contact Hallie Pendergast at [email protected].