2016 Teachers of the Year Offer High School Teaching Wisdom News2america

During a school day like no other, the nation’s top educators were honored at an event at the White House last week.

Hayes grew up in a community full of poverty, violence and low expectations, Obama said. No one in Hayes’s family had gone to college or particularly encouraged education. She became pregnant as a teen and wanted to drop out of school, but her teachers encouraged her to dream bigger, he said.

Now, she teaches in the same city where she grew up.

“Jahana’s principal at Kennedy High says she gets through to her students precisely because she remembers what it’s like to be one of them,” Obama said.

U.S. News asked Hayes and the three other finalists for the top honor – all high school teachers – what advice they’d offer to other educators.

Expect nothing: Teachers start teaching with an idea of what education looks like, Hayes says. She suggests teachers go in looking at the role of teacher-to-student like a reciprocal relationship, where teachers have as much to learn from students as students have to learn from teachers – then teachers will really engage students.

“Always know where it is you are trying to go, but be very flexible in how you are going to get there,” she says.

• Get your voice heard outside of your own classroom: Teachers should get involved in education policy and leadership while staying in the classroom, says Daniel Jocz, California’s top teacher this year. He teaches social studies at Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles.

Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, the 2016 Washington Teacher of the Year, who teaches social studies at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, agrees that teachers need to get involved in the political conversations surrounding education. “There’s a lot of people who talk about education who don’t actually know education like we do,” he says.

• Develop strong relationships with students: It starts with relationships and expectations in the classroom, says Gibbs-Bowling. “If you have high expectations for students, they’ll rise to the occasion. If you don’t, they won’t.”

Jocz says learning should be enjoyable. He tells high school teachers to make sure they are having fun while lesson planning and teaching.

Hayes tells new high school teachers to talk to their students as much and as often as possible. “Connect it back to your lesson, but find out who they are so that you can learn how to teach them.”

• Think about your students’ futures: Many students don’t think they’ll use what they learn in class after high school, says Shawn Sheehan, 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. But he likes to prove his students wrong. Before becoming a special education and math teacher, he worked as a job coach for adults with disabilities.

He saw young people who were underprepared for work and life after high school. He likes to stay focused on that and on how what students are learning today, especially with math, applies to life after graduation while teaching at Norman High School.

He wishes when he started teaching that he knew it was OK to fail and make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. And teachers shouldn’t take students’ behavioral challenges personally, he says.

“My favorite part about being a high school teacher is all of the goofy stuff that happens,” he says. He loves talking about things like getting jobs, driving and prom with his students because they are at that age where they are trying to figure out who they are. “That’s such a fun age to work with. That and they understand sarcasm for the most part.”

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