Thursday, February 2, 2012

Richland 2 social studies teacher wins national award

It's good to see a South Carolina public school teacher honored for doing great work.

It could be a daily occurrence, given that South Carolina public school teachers work miracles every school day. But South Carolina doesn't honor its miracle-working public school teachers; it browbeats them, adds greater burdens to their backs and begrudges them every dime appropriated for their substandard salaries, shrinking health insurance benefits and meager retirement benefits.

Yes, God bless the public school teachers who live and work in right-to-work-for-less states like ours.

And congratulations to social studies teacher Jason Yaman, whose work drew the attention of an organization beyond our borders.

“What I love about history is telling the stories and making the connections as to how this caused that,” said Yaman, who has been with Richland 2 since 2002.

But that passion for history wasn’t always something shared by his students, who would often come to class with a negative view of the subject.

“That was a real area of growth for me,” he said. “I enjoyed social studies so I thought everyone did. As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

After attending various education conferences, which included information on how the brain processes information, Yaman began thinking about the way we learn.

“There is brain research out there that supports that we think visually,” he said.

For the benefit of lawmakers, let me explain. After graduating high school and earning baccalaureate, and often advanced, degrees in college, and qualifying for certification as a public school educator under the laws of South Carolina and the policies of its Department of Education, these public school teachers often attend conferences, seminars, workshops and trainings that are designed to offer "professional development."

"Professional development" represents the philosophy that human beings are life-long learners, and that we have an infinite capacity to learn, grow and improve in our professions over the course of a career. So long as a good educator remains active, that good educator wants to know what more is being discovered about the many different aspects of teaching and learning.

Physicians and attorneys, and a great many other professionals, understand the same thing: You cannot rest on the belief that you know all there is to know about your field of work, or you'll stagnate and lose your effectiveness. Hence, physicians and attorneys attend their own professional development conferences and events.

This is why education professionals ought to be supported in attending as many of these occasions as possible.

Let's be clear: "Professional development" events are not the same as vacations or junkets, such as when corporate entities plan golfing getaways for lawmakers in the Caribbean, where they can "consult" on major issues of the day over the fourth hole. And they're not the same as when lawmakers attend conferences of the American Legislative Exchange Council, to network with like-minded conspirators and receive this year's sheaf of viral legislation.

Instead, "professional development" helps education professions get better at doing what they do, and become more effective in the classroom. For example, the award-winning social studies teacher, Mr. Yaman, learned about developments in brain research, and his new awareness led him to devise new teaching strategies that reflect the latest research.

In a nutshell, Yaman’s approach takes the state-adopted history textbook and guides students through it using pictures. He says he wants to get away from the idea that history is just memorizing dates and facts and “cramming before tests.”

“I tell them you need to have the timeframe of history,” Yaman added, “not the timeline.”

Tuesday, students were asked to draw images of what the Japanese thought of an American battleship when it was first spotted off the coast of that island nation in the late 1700s.

Students drew dragons and erupting volcanoes, as accounted in a letter by a Japanese fisherman that Yaman read out loud in class.

Over the years, Yaman said as he has developed and adjusted his style, he has seen a difference in the way his students respond.

“I think they go into the test with better recall,” he said.

Do you see this? As a result of professional development, a teacher devised new teaching strategies, and these strategies are yielding greater results in student achievement. Investment made, dividend collected.

That's how education works.

It must be working.

In January, Yaman was presented with the Beveridge Family Teaching Award at the American Historical Association’s national conference in Chicago, an award he shares with another teacher from Ohio. Established in 1995, the award is given to recognize excellence and innovation in teaching history.

Blythewood Middle School Principal Brenda Hafner said it’s an approach that’s “infectious.”

“These are the things we look for in all of our teachers but particularly how do you ignite that passion for learning,” she said. “It’s how do you encourage students to dig deeper, or delve further, and Jason is able to do that. You can’t help but feel it when you’re in the room.”

Look at that. Great teaching and learning is "infectious." Isn't that what we want in all of South Carolina's classrooms?

Isn't it?

Dusten Asplin who has sketched a fairly decent dragon on his computer screen, said he enjoys drawing in “Mr. Yaman’s class.”

The pictures, the 12-year-old said, have helped him remember his history lessons.

“It helps me to learn,” he says.

Of course it does.

Thanks, Mr. Yaman.

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