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Q&A with 2012 Regional Teacher of the Year Mindy Eisele

Regional Teacher of the Year, Mindy Eisele, surrounded by students in her classroom at Olympic High School. - staff photo
Regional Teacher of the Year, Mindy Eisele, surrounded by students in her classroom at Olympic High School.
— image credit: staff photo

Regional Teacher of the Year and Olympic High School English teacher Mindy Eisele spent 11 years working outside the education bubble before stepping into a classroom with a sense of urgency for educational reform. Having been a European backpacker that settled in Italy, for a while, then worked as a defense department employee and then a staff member to a college dean, Eisele said she felt called to teach once she finally entered the classroom in that roll.

Now leading Olympic students through a discovery of their own personal power through the use of the written word and everyday real-world skills, Eisele works to bring to life each student’s motivation in their daily school work and, in so far as education can reach, personal lives. Eisele joins eight other Washington state regional teachers for a year of celebration and access to legislators and the community to promote individual platforms on public education.

Can the award be used by you to better teaching?

I hope so. My goal is not to improve the job for teachers. We have really strong teachers at CK. My goal is to improve the learning for students. For far too long the emphasis has been on better teaching. We need to have better learning. The emphasis has been switching for some number of years as we’ve improved how we do business. Anyone over 30 now, when you went to school the amount of information you were to learn was sort of served up and you were expected to bend to the environment and if you did not, there was something wrong with you. There are still a lot of people that say, ‘well dog gone, that’s the way it should be.’ They should pull up their pants and cut their hair and by golly they have to learn just like we did. But, what if the kids don’t? Do you just fill your jails with them? Or, do you alter what you’re doing to try to make the material a bit more accessible? If you go down that road you find out that there are all kids of reasons why kids don’t come to school prepared to learn. They come differently to the school house that they did just a generation ago.

Who was your favorite teacher, did they inspire you?

Mr. O’Brien in a sophomore English class in Thousand Oaks, Calif. I remember that in a class of well over 35 absolutely unruly and miss-behaved  immature sophomore kids, he stood up on a chair, which he wasn’t supposed to do. He didn’t holler, he didn’t lose his temper, he just started reading lines from “Romeo and Juliet.” One by one the kids quieted down and began to listen.

I’m sure he didn’t reach everyone in the room but I was amazed at both the power of the words had and the power those words gave him as an educator. A door opened that day for me. It was many years later that I decide that perhaps I wanted to open a door for a student.

Is college for everyone, what about the trades?

It’s a combination. But students have been told directly or through inference that they need to go to college. It’s about personal happiness. Our country is so infatuated with the almighty dollar that  it’s become go to college and you too can become a lawyer or a doctor or a college professor and make X amount of dollars. But what does it take to make you happy? If you’re good with your hands or good with words and write stories, that should be just as much an option to you.

It’s about providing the correct information and workplace skills and knowledge for every student in high school to the degree that they can make informed and honorable decisions, whatever that decision is.

Mike Rowe, from Dirty Jobs, testified in Congress. He was incredibly articulate about some observations that he made, it’s lights-out testimony on this very issue. He talks about good times with his grandfather and that his grandfather could fix anything. Now he leaves a check for the plumber who is going to come sometime when he is at work. The skill and the human are not connected any more.

The best thing to happen in the Teacher of the Year process?

A citizen wrote in to say that he was moved by my platform presentation to the school board about educating the head, teach the hand and reach the heart. That my message resonated with someone that I don’t know.

What makes a good teacher?

I think a good teacher makes a connection with students so that the student understands that this adult cares, that this adult is watching the student’s success and is the student’s greatest fan. That is what I mean by connection. The cookie cutter public education can sometimes feel very cold, especially if the student isn’t as cheerleader or falls outside the box. If the students falls outside of the norm.  But if you have that teacher that is excited to see them as individuals and watches individual progress while also getting after them when they’re not performing, it’s that connection that matters most. If you’re teaching teenagers, the second most important thing is that you feed them.

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