In the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, President Obama honored the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling, from Johnston High School in Iowa, for her creative efforts to treat every student as a unique learner.
As a high school English teacher, she creates individualized podcasts for each student and takes into account a wide array of interests and learning styles. Her students don’t just write five-paragraph essays, but they write songs, public service announcements, film storyboards, even grant proposals for their own non-for-profit organizations.
“With Sarah as their teacher,” the President remarked, “student who had been discouraged and disengaged have discovered a passion for learning.”
One of her students reports that in Sarah’s class, “No discussion was fruitless, no assignment was pointless, and not one day was boring.”
“When we embrace this open-model of learning, the consumers of our curriculum will become designers of their own learning,” said Sarah in her acceptance speech.
“It is in these moments of learning that I fondly think of my students (who) want to be seen as individuals, not as a number or the score on an exam, who clamor for innovative curriculum and passionate teachers. They all would say we need 21st century teachers, not just adults teaching in the 21st century.”
This year alone Sarah helped develop 15 new courses, worked to mentor other teachers, helped organize a statewide teaching symposium and to design Iowa’s core curriculum, and served as president of the Iowa Council of Teachers of English. And all of this is in addition to being a mother to three young children.
“Slow down,” Obama joked.