2019 Teacher of the Year
"I make sure that before I ask a student to engage in a task, I ask myself, 'Would a real scientist or poet do this in the real world?' Too much of what kids experience in schools today is disconnected and out of context. Think about learning to swim or ride a bike. You can’t learn how to swim by reading about it, looking at a video, labeling a diagram, and then answering some questions. No. You have to get in the water."
River of Words / Kalmanovitz School of Education 2019 Teacher of the Year
Glenn Powers, of the Center for Teaching and Learning; Edgecomb, Maine.
Placing students in direct contact with the content they are learning in the classroom is important to our 2019 Teacher of the Year, Glenn Powers. He also believes that the teacher must take on a facilitator role, like that of a mentor or coach. For that reason, he has woven the rigor and authenticity of workshop methodology together with middle school reading, writing, history, math and science. During the “Woods and Wildlife” science year, for example, Powers’ students got to spend a total of forty days in the forest. They observed the four New England seasons of the forest while conducting numerous ecological, arboreal, and animal studies. The young scientists and poets also worked alongside numerous environmental agencies, mentor scientists, and educational partners.
With the help of his students, Powers also set up a howling and hooting box. They programmed the box to call out at specific times of the day and night so they could record what hooted or howled back. This is how they learned about the coyotes and owls that live in their local forest. The students also took inventory of trees in specific sampling spaces in the forest, made tracking stations that they examined for new tracks each week, went birding, and set up insect inventory stations. But that is not all. They also studied local mice by setting up tracking cameras, catching and releasing mice, and collecting data with the help and guidance of local scientists. In the process, they learned about the various cycles and processes that keep a local forest ecosystem healthy and thriving, and also contributed to ongoing scientific projects.
Glenn Powers does not believe that he is training his students to be future poets and scientists, but rather, that they already are poets and scientists today. Powers also believes that the job of a scientist and the job of a poet are very much alike, since close examination is at the core of both of their tasks. As a result, he explains, “My students produce both kinds of writing knowing they are not mutually exclusive, not one more valuable than the other.” Powers' views have shaped his hands-on teaching philosophy, which encourages students to examine the world closely and take a stance on important issues. He says, “The first step in having students closely examine their world is to allow it to happen on their terms. Allow it to unfold like poets and scientists, while making sure students take a deliberate stance.” While students engage with the world around them, the teacher is only there to “provide the tools to engage, analyze, and create it along the way.”
Powers is a teacher at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), where he performs his duties as a middle-school science specialist, teaching science to grades 5-8. He taught humanities, math, and technology for ten years in Williamsville, New York, as well as East Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens, and at the Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Astoria before working at CTL in 2005. He earned a Masters in English Education from Columbia University Teachers College and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Glenn Powers teaches at CTL, consults with schools about writing & reading workshop methods and writing across the curriculum, and is at work on a book for Stenhouse about literary discussions.