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Teacher Spotlight: A Talk with Matinga Ragatz

As the 2011 Michigan Teacher of the Year, Ragatz teaches social studies and global languages and often takes students overseas to study the world.


This post is in partnership with University of Phoenix

Matinga Ragatz believes in exposing her students to the world and teaches from a global perspective. Ragatz was honored as the 2011 Michigan Teacher of the Year and in 2008 she received Microsoft’s Innovative Teacher Award. She teaches social studies and global languages at Grand Ledge High School and often takes groups of students on overseas trips to teach them about the world. To watch the extended interview with Ragatz, click above for an exclusive video.

GOOD: How long have you been teaching and what type of students do you serve?

Matinga Ragatz: I’ve been teaching for about 22 years, and I teach high school in a mixed race suburban community called Grand Ledge.

GOOD: Your students are so diverse. How do you differentiate your instruction to meet their needs?

Ragatz: In order to make sure that I create a comfortable place for them to learn, I’ve had to change the way my instruction happens in my classroom. I no longer just have one lecture for all students; each student has access to class content in a different way based on whatever it is that they need. For any given unit there may be ten to twelve ways of learning the content.

GOOD: What types of technology do you use in your class?

Ragatz: In my class we don’t see technology as a tool, we see it as an appendage. It’s very much apart of what the students do everyday. The majority of the technology that we use is the stuff that’s in their pockets because it’s accessible and relevant to them.

GOOD: Your teaching style is very creative. How do you balance that against the push to be so focused on test scores?

Ragatz: Test scores and state testing are definitely obstacles to learning in the twenty-first century. You cannot learn in one way, but we spend millions of dollars creating differentiated instruction, and then we take one test.

GOOD: You’re very global in your perspective. How do you feel this has enhanced your students’ learning?

Ragatz: In order to add a more globalization to the classroom, I’ve taken the students abroad. Part of a twenty-first century skill set is for students to be taught globalization and for me, it’s a paradox not to include travel in their education. The United States has one of the most expensive educations in the world, but it’s one of the countries that puts obstacles in the way for the students to study abroad.

GOOD: How do you motivate students who haven’t been successful in the past?

Ragatz: I create a student-centered classroom where a student can prove himself and his knowledge in many ways. Quickly what you find is that a student who isn’t academically engaged, there is nothing wrong with his mind. It’s just that he does not learn in a traditional way.

GOOD: How do you make the content culturally relevant to students?

Ragatz: I stay very knowledgeable about culture. I travel all over the world, not just because it’s fun, but also because it’s very important. If I am going to be teaching a global perspective, I need to be out in the world.

GOOD: What kind of advice would you give a new teacher?

Ragatz: That’s a scary question. I always found it very scary when people would give me advice about how to teach. While I understood their philosophy and was inspired, it was very difficult for me to put it into context in my classroom once I had 30 students around me.

I started thinking of myself as a “talent guide,” instead of just using the traditional term “teacher.” There are a lot of practices that I’ve had to change because I think of myself as a facilitator, a project manager, or a talent guide rather than a teacher in front of the room imparting—or more likely inflicting—knowledge.

GOOD: In your opinion, what’s the biggest misconception about teachers?

Ragatz: The biggest misconception is that we are lazy and incompetent. We understand perfectly it’s about scapegoating, because when there’s a bad economy there’s always a scapegoat. So we don’t take it personally in that sense, because as teachers we’ve been here before and we know how to get up. But ninety percent of teachers are committed, passionate instructors who just want to leave a mark and create a legacy for the future generation.

It doesn’t really matter what you take away from us, or how you punish us, as long as you let us just teach.

Read more from the GOOD Guide of Great Teaching here.

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