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Teacher Spotlight: Chris Hoeh

The GOOD Guide to Finding the Teachers of Tomorrow: Second grade teacher Chris Hoeh talks about the future of education.

This post is in partnership with University of Phoenix

Chris Hoeh is a teacher with more than 25 years of experience as an educator. He has been teaching second grade at the Cambridge Friends School in Massachusetts for the past 15 years. He is known for his year-long curriculum that follows the creation of cotton clothing from seed to garment.

GOOD: How do you see the classroom atmosphere changing in the next five to ten years? How can teachers adapt to these changes?

CHRIS HOEH: It’s looking somewhat dystopic to me now. This past year in Wisconsin, we saw the attempts to blame and disparage teachers and take away their collective bargaining rights. I take some heart from how the people of the state pushed back both there and in Ohio. Teachers must advocate for the profession and through that advocacy support their students. Collective bargaining must be protected. School administrators do not have a monopoly on good policy, they need to respect and collaborate with teachers to educate the children. Without collective bargaining teachers’ perspectives get neglected or lost, ultimately hurting kids. I’m also deeply committed to this as my own grandmother was fired as a teacher for views that were politically unpopular.

GOOD: What's the best advice you can give to first year teachers who are planning to stay in education for the long term?

HOEH: I would urge them to connect to a sense of social justice, anti-racism, and anti-bias. Education for social justice and academic excellence must go together. We help children develop the skills and knowledge base coupled with an understanding of the history of social justice movements and that can prepare and inspire them to make the world a better place. Whether they find their career to be as a writer, doctor, musician, or a mathematician, they will have the drive and talents to find a way to improve the world. What could be more important?

Money needs to be spent providing constructive supervision and good professional development, and assessments that serve to improve instruction. We need to assure that assessments have the purpose of instruction. High stakes testing is hurting, not helping. We must try to shift education away from the testing and in this other direction so we can best do our jobs.

GOOD: With technology changing so quickly, what are the ways teachers can stay innovative in the classroom?

HOEH: My personal innovation has been to develop a yearlong curriculum on a topic accessible to kids, cotton clothing, that is academically rich and deeply intertwined with the history of social justice movements. I use digital technology to bring experience to the students from history or places we can’t get to. The most engaging and powerful activities are writing and presenting speeches, acting in role plays, response to books read aloud, and hands on projects like weaving with a backstrap loom and the design and sale of fundraising t-shirts.

Tablet technology may get to the point where young kids can use them in a way that is an improvement over current materials. That is something that we should investigate.

GOOD: What do you think is an essential quality to a successful teacher and how can we help nurture this quality?

HOEH: I take something from “backward design” that’s really helpful – teachers must understand what are the essential understandings, concepts, skills they need to convey and then choose or develop lessons that will meet these goals. When teachers understand the reason that they are teaching a lesson and have confidence in the approach they are much more effective. Teachers must always be learning too.

Teaching is hard work, but very rewarding. You can’t be in it for the monetary reward. I teach because it gives meaning and joy to my life when I see my students learn.

GOOD: We've focused on technological or pedagogical ways that teachers innovate, but what is it about teacher-child relationships that'll endure well into the 21st century?

HOEH: I go back to the importance of social justice. Deep down I believe that education must be seen as a part of the movement for a better world. For our school here in Boston it rings with local history and ties those of us in the present to the past in deep ways, and also points a path forward. What do we find in Frederick Douglass’ words, or the words of Sojourner Truth, that apply today? What do we see in current events that relates to our rich history? And what do we take from this into our common futures?

To read more thoughts from classroom teachers about the future of education, read the GOOD Guide to Finding the Teachers of Tomorrow.

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