By SEAN ROWLEY
A leading figure in the education field says all students are challenged in some way – and it’s the duty of teachers to help young people get past the obstacles.
During its annual Celebration of Teaching, Northeastern State University welcomed a special guest Thursday to speak to students about careers in education. National Teacher of the Year Jeffrey Charbonneau and 275 students from area schools were on hand, and Teachers of the Year from individual Oklahoma school districts also received invitations to attend.
Charbonneau was named the 2013 National Teacher of the Year April 23. His keynote address, delivered in the NSU Center for the Performing Arts, included advice and anecdotes about the delights and challenges of teaching.
“I help students overcome obstacles,” Charbonneau said. “Every single one of you in this room has an obstacle you need to overcome. You each have challenges in your life, and your challenges may be bigger or smaller than someone else’s. But they have to be overcome, and it is my job as a teacher to figure out what that challenge is and to help. That is what makes this profession so amazing.”
Summarizing characteristics of successful teachers, Charbonneau said they “make it about today” because they could inspire a student at any time.
“I also teach my kids to fail, but to fail at the right times,” he said. “We need to push students to their limits - their failing points - and then be there to catch them, get them back up and going again. They need to know what it is like to fail and keep going.”
He said teachers must take an interest in all students, not just those in their classes, and that good teachers “know no answers.”
“People like to say ‘no’ because it’s easier,” he said. “You will be faced with a lot of people telling you ‘no’ between now and through your career. It won’t be easy, but you need to know the answers to the no’s.”
Charbonneau said good teachers also give help, seek help from others and are leaders, but lead while making students the focus.
“Great teachers also give hope,” he said. “If you choose to go into the teaching profession, your job is to give your students hope in themselves.”
A teacher of chemistry, physics and engineering at Zillah (Wash.) High School, Charbonneau has increased science electives by 20 percent during his 12 years at the school. Through agreements with area universities, Charbonneau offers 24 college level technology and science-related credits at Zillah.
In 2008, he created the Zillah Robot Challenge, which is open to any student attending school in Washington. More than 1,000 students from 70 middle and high schools have participated.
The annual Celebration of Teaching is an effort to encourage public school students – particularly minorities – to consider a career in education. It is funded through a special project grant from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education Minority Teacher Recruitment Center.
“We’ve brought the National Teacher of the Year in for the past 14 years,” said Dr. Deborah Landry, dean of the NSU College of Education. “We want very much to give these students from area schools a positive experience on a university campus. We have students from Tahlequah, Locust Grove, Westville, Tulsa and elsewhere, and we had the maximum number of students attend this year.”
Students also took a tour of campus, perused the visiting Smithsonian Native Words, Native Warriors Exhibit at the John Vaughan Library, were served lunch and attended workshops with faculty from NSU and partner institutions.