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A Dark Little Box
Immediately after Michael Geisen was named National Teacher of the Year in the spring of 2008, he was on the road. Winning the award sent the middle school science teacher from his classroom in Prineville to schools, conference, universities and panel discussions around the country and beyond – to be an "ambassador for great teaching" — as Geisen puts it.
He went back to the classroom after that whirlwind, but "that year back was challenging," he told me after the show. "I felt like I was a first year teacher again."
As I mentioned at the end of yesterday's show on education, he's on leave this year again. He's not sure he'll return to teaching. It seemed a shame for a classroom to lose a teacher recognized for his ability and creativity, so I asked him why. Here's what he says:
Coming back to my classroom was more difficult than I had expected. Not only were we facing staffing and program cuts, class sizes in the mid-30's, and no budget for supplies, we also had completely new science standards from the state, no time for teacher collaboration, and an even shorter prep period. I was also continuing to get requests to speak at conferences, serve on committees, and get involved with various projects. I took on too much, and I was out of balance, both professionally and personally. I felt like I was teaching in a dark, little box (my class room had just one small window), not taking very good care of myself, and losing my connection to my own family.
So last spring I made the difficult and very personal decision to take a year of unpaid leave to explore some of these other opportunities and reconnect with my family. Crook County School District was understanding and graciously offered to hold my position for a year. So this school year, although I miss the direct connection with my colleagues and students, I'm taking on a number of other educational projects: I'm writing a book on teaching, designing science curriculum for various organizations, doing a bit of speaking, and working with local organizations to help bring more natural resource and outdoor learning opportunities to central Oregon students. And most importantly, I'm investing time with my two most important students: my own children.