Speaking to nearly 9,000 fellow educators gathered at the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly in Atlanta, Georgia on Friday, the 2013 National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau proclaimed to the enthusiastic crowd that, make no mistake, there is much to be proud about public education in the United States.
“Rather than succumb to the notion that we are failing, we must celebrate the quality education that we are providing while strengthening our resolve to further improve,” Charbonneau said. “Despite what we read in the paper, students and teachers across the nation are achieving in countless ways. It is time for us to recognize that public education is succeeding.”
A science teacher at Zillah High School in Zillah, Washington, a National Board Certified Teacher and co-president of the Zillah Education Association, Charbonneau was named Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State Officers in April. Charbonneau was honored for his passionate dedication to transforming science education into an interactive and accessible learning experience for all his students.
Schools can always improve, Charbonneau told the delegates, but he urged all educators to step up and push back against the negativism that has undermined the confidence of educators and forced many parents into thinking that our schools are failing. Too many people – unfortunately in positions of influence – are holding onto skewed and narrow notions of what embodies real education.
“Students in our classrooms are there to study themselves – to learn about themselves – their talents, their strength, and their weaknesses,” Charbonneau said. “I claim that our most important job then, what we teach, is not the content – it is not about facts, figures, diagrams, or procedures. Our most important job is to develop positive relationships with students that foster an increase in their self-confidence and self-awareness.”
Watch our interview with Jeff Charbonneau
Charbonneau cautioned against anyone thinking that teachers don’t hold students to high students. On the contrary, he said, “great teachers do not allow students to fail.” Insisting on student success is one of the six tenets of Charbonneau self-described “educational paradise.” The other five? Every day is the most important day for every one of your students, all students deserve help, great teachers always find solutions, teachers help each other, and a culture of high professional ambition benefits students.
“These six key strategies define teaching. They define the state of education in our country, because each and every one of them is taking place in schools throughout our nation. But these six strategies also define something else,” Charbonneau said. “They define leadership.”
And it’s leadership that needs to be moved front and center for the entire nation to see.
“I need your help. I need you to use your leadership abilities to their fullest to help redefine the message of education to match what we see everyday,” Charbonneau urged the delegates. “We are not a nation of failing schools. We are a nation of schools that are continually working to improve and adapt to a changing world. Please continue to lead our students and our colleagues into a future that recognizes just how valuable an asset public education is to our society.”
Watch the full speech here: