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Looking Forward

Looking Forward

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FunkhouserMichael Funkhouser, West Virginia State Teacher of the Year 2013

I am closing out a 34 year career as an educator in the public schools of Hardy County WV. The first thirty-one years were tremendously fulfilling as I was blessed to be involved with the children in the community where I grew up. I taught my own children, nieces and nephews and countless children of friends. Some years ago my colleague across the hall and I made a pact to retire together in 2015. Almost like two kids on the playground, we were making a commitment on a time that seemed like it would never come. Year thirty-two brought to me the humbling and completely unexpected honor of being West Virginia’s Teacher of the Year. My year of celebration was a whirlwind in which I slept in almost thirty different beds. I have spent the last two years as an academic coach in Hardy County while taking advantage of every opportunity to advocate for positive shifts in education. I do pastor three small churches in the United Methodist Church so I am not going to lack things to do in retirement. That said, I fully intend to be an advocate for the common core standards and positive education shifts in West Virginia and anywhere else people might listen. One of the great blessings of the last two years has been to watch teachers who were skeptical about the standards begin to “get it”. We are fighting an uphill battle in West Virginia but we do have a window of opportunity to “save” the “next generation standards”.

I have seen the shifts from the common core standards working in West Virginia classrooms. Teachers, many of whom at one point saw these shifts as the next thing in education that would not last, are now becoming more comfortable with the shifts. Teachers are recognizing their students become excited as the students take more ownership of their learning. Rarely do I see the traditional desks in rows formation that was prevalent even three years ago. Students are mobile, they are working in groups and there is often more than one component of the lesson going on at the same time. Students are starting to understand the value of supporting their claims with evidence that can be documented. Parents, on the other hand, have been inundated with negative information or misinformation concerning the standards. Part of the mission of those who would stand for the standards will be to educate a public that is already distrusting.

When I was named Teacher of the Year I was given a voice on educational issues I never anticipated having. I am currently working through the collaborative for student success to help get the pockets of stakeholders who are advocates organized so we can support each other’s efforts. I have written a couple op-eds for state newspapers and will be meeting with legislators who will give me a minute over the next six months. It would be easy to put this work on the shelf with my plaques and picture with the president but I am finding that I will always be a part of the school system. Moving forward I am hoping to join a group of stakeholders in the mountain state in turning the tide of public opinion that seems bent on washing the standards away. While my boots may no longer be on the ground of the public school battlefield, I still have a voice in the planning of the battle. This advocacy is too important to allow this old English teacher to go gentle into that good night.

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