An extraordinary group of teachers descended on the Confluence Technology Center Thursday night to receive classroom grants from the North Central Educational Service District Foundation.
Each of the 41 recipients representing schools from across region applied for funding up to $300 for projects that engage students in four areas: STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), literacy, music and arts and post-secondary education.
The amount of creativity in the grant applications was inspiring. Even the grant amounts were small, they mean a lot to teachers who are struggling with tight budgets but finding ways to develop meaningful opportunities for students.
Matthew Brewer, the regional teacher of the year, talked about the kinds of critical comments that teachers receive these days. It's true that teachers are easy targets for those looking to assign blame for achievement and attainment shortcomings. So having the chance to earn a grant to do something special is a marvelous opportunity.
Brewer, a gifted science and math teacher from Soap Lake, said he feels the pressure because of those negative assumptions in our society. He said he didn't deserve the honor of being one of eight teachers in the state to be recognized for their dedication and passion in educating kids. "I'm not the best teacher in my hallway," Brewer claimed. He went on to describe his teaching philosophy as "getting out of the kids' way and let them go out and do great things."
When Brewer told the following story, he described the essence of great teaching. A few years ago, he received a brochure from the University of Washington promoting "Orca Bowl," a competition that challenges kids to apply knowledge of ocean-related physics, chemistry, biology, geology and technology. The ocean, he noted, is 300 miles away and he figured it wasn't worth thinking about. No one, he figured, would be interested.
But a student stopped by, lit up when he saw the brochure and asked if the school was going to have a team. The kid's enthusiasm inspired Brewer to say 'yes' and they did indeed field a team, competed against big schools in Puget Sound and made a respectable showing. The student was the catalyst for making this happen and it led to Soap Lake offering oceanography courses and kids getting college credit for that work. It just took a teacher who saw an opportunity and responded.
This story, of course, proves that Brewer is an outstanding teacher, despite his protests to the contrary.
Now in its fourth year, the ESD Foundation is helping teachers do more in their classrooms to help kids learn. This is a great feel-good event and you can tell how meaningful it is to those who receive the grants. These teacher grants are a great way to inspire innovation, creativity and collaboration.