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AZ Teacher of the Year on building connections, attracting teachers

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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2015 Arizona Teacher Of The Year John-David Bowman Teaches In His Classroom At Westwood High School On Thursday Oct. 23, 2014. Photo Courtesy Tim Hacker/Mesa Public Schools

Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2015 Arizona Teacher of the Year, John-David Bowman, says students and teachers are the backbone of education and more people need to advocate for them.

“Education is the foundation of the American dream. I think we need more people out and about spreading the word about all the great things that are going on,” Bowman said. “There are so many amazing things and events going on in the classroom at every school, and I think that needs to be celebrated.”

AZ Teacher of the Year on building connections, attracting teachers JohnDavidBowmanHP3

Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2015 Arizona Teacher of the Year John-David Bowman teaches in his classroom at Westwood High School on Thursday Oct. 23, 2014. Photo courtesy Tim Hacker/Mesa Public Schools

Bowman teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History, International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge, and IB History of the Americas classes at Westwood High School in Mesa Public Schools. Bowman was a student teacher at the school, and has taught there for the past eight years.

“The most exciting part of having this honor is the ability to really speak for the teachers and students of Arizona,” Bowman said. “Teachers need other professionals and representatives in the state to hear what they need to succeed.”

At the awards luncheon, Bowman thanked his parents for their influence, his wife for all her help, school administrators for their trust, fellow teachers for their support and his students “for making me love my job.”

“I’ve been truly, truly blessed to have so many teachers who have been mentors and friends who have guided me through this process,” Bowman said. “I don’t think I would be anywhere near where I am, as a teacher in the classroom without their support and their guidance. Just having someone to shoot ideas off of is really important.”

Bowman said he enjoyed spending the day with the other teachers named Ambassadors of Excellence by the Arizona Educational Foundation – Kaci Heins, sixth-grade science teacher at Northland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff, Kevin Kehl, BioScience CTE and biology teacher at Andrada Polytechnic High School in Tucson, Margie Looney, fifth- through twelfth-grade orchestra teacher at Willcox middle and high schools and Jeffrey Taylor, AP Environmental Science and AP Chemistry teacher at Flagstaff High School.

“They are passionate, intelligent, and driven individuals who I am very excited to work with over the next year,” Bowman said.

Q: Why is teaching so rewarding for you?

A: The most rewarding aspect to me is building relationships with students. It is an amazing feeling to see former students come back and relay all of their successes in life. There are very few careers that allow a person the opportunity to impact so many lives on a daily basis.

Q: How do you build a strong classroom connection with students, and why is that so important?

A: Building relationships is about letting the students truly know that you care about them. If a teacher is genuine and demonstrates compassion, then students will become more engaged, and I think their efforts tend to increase as well.

Q: What are the most pressing public education issues in Arizona and some solutions?

A: Funding for public education needs to be addressed, and if it is it could have a transcendent impact on teachers and students.

Increased funding can lead to more access to technology and resources in the classroom. Today students are often light years ahead in terms of technological ability. Their classrooms should reflect the world they live in. This would lead to more engaged students and higher academic achievement.

In many schools, including my own, teachers have had to buy their own laptops. I remember I actually had to borrow the principal’s projector for the first two years of teaching. In addition to technology, there is a myriad of resources in education that are missing from the classroom. Supplemental resources such as review books and electronic material can truly add to a student’s overall success. Often times, there is not enough money to purchase these items. Even textbooks have begun to be phased out in favor of online sources in an effort to save money.

Likewise, education funding needs to be increased in order to implement more professional development for teachers. Last year marked the end of the Teaching American History grants. These grants had provided much needed funding for professional development. Now, in many cases teachers have to pay their own way to attend conferences and workshops that offer excellent content and pedagogy that they can use in their classrooms. More teachers would be able to attend these workshops if districts had the funds to pay for them. Additional funding could be used to implement effective common core trainings and create mentor programs for teachers. Again, the changes would benefit the students most.

Q: What needs to happen to attract and retain quality teachers?

A: Teacher pay affects the two most important things in this profession: attracting fantastic teachers and then retaining them. Education is filled with talented and amazing teachers. But, think about how many energetic, passionate, and intelligent people miss out on this opportunity because they need to make more money.

I went to school with three friends. We all earned two bachelor’s degrees and a graduate degree. They make six figures, which is fine and I don’t begrudge them, but two of them would have been amazing teachers. I feel that we are losing out on attracting as many great teachers as possible.

If attracting quality teachers across the board can be difficult, so too is retaining new teachers who walk through the door. Over the last two years, I have seen a number of new teachers, student teachers and interns decide to leave their prospective careers after finding out that future salaries will be much lower than they anticipated.

Numerous teachers at my school, including myself, work a second job in order to remain in the profession. Their dedication and commitment cannot be questioned, but I don’t believe they should need to do this. Moreover, many teachers choose to go into administration or district positions before they are really ready to leave the classroom because of monetary considerations. Administrators and employees at the district level are obviously important members of the educational community. However, teachers should not be economically pushed out of the classroom.

The goal should be to retain the talented and enthusiastic teachers for as long as possible. I would not be where I am today without an impressive array of veteran teachers who mentored me through my career. In some cases, they gave me resources and power-point presentations. Other times, they collaborated with me on curriculum or projects. Maybe most important, they were there to listen and answer questions no matter the scope. If the education community does not retain great teachers, we risk losing a number of valuable mentors who can then, in turn, help create more master teachers. Who wins if there are more master teachers? Of course, it is the students and therefore society as a whole. The entire reason we are here.

Although I acknowledge I do not have any magic formula to solve this situation, I do think there are a few things that people can do to improve this situation.

I believe teachers need to get out into their respective communities more to urge people to become advocates for education and teachers. The more people see teachers interacting outside of the classroom the better. I think teachers, especially in Arizona, need to assist their peers in the unions. There is a significant amount of work that they do on a volunteer basis that goes unnoticed and the more support we give them, the more successful they will be.

Lastly, we need our colleagues and others in the community to become more civically engaged citizens. We should promote more activity and involvement with the state legislature and the school boards of our respective districts.

Video: John-David Bowman, Arizona Educational Foundation’s Arizona Teacher of the Year