An Interview with Michelle Shearer: 2011 Teacher of the Year

Aug 23, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

  1. Michelle, first of all, let me congratulate you on being the 2011 Teacher of the Year. How did you find out about this honor?

    Michelle Shearer 2011 National Teacher of the Year


After completing the final interviews in Washington, D.C., I received a telephone call from Dr. Nancy Grasmick, Superintendent of Maryland’s Public Schools. She informed me that the national committee had selected me to be the 2011 National Teacher of the Year.

  1. Tell us about your recent trip to China and what you learned there?

People to People Ambassador Programs powered this trip which enabled me to experience China’s cultural heritage and also to visit schools and interact directly with Chinese teachers and administrators. The most significant and exciting thing I learned is that educators in the United States and China share the same goal: to provide the best possible education for students.

  1. How are China and the United States similar and dissimilar?

Education is a priority in both countries. In both China and the United States, education opens doors to opportunities, yet all students do not have the same access to quality education, especially those who live in poverty. Chinese teachers shared my concerns on many current issues related to the profession, such as class size, workload, and respect for teachers, and they also expressed a desire to incorporate more creative and innovative instructional strategies similar to those we use in the United States. At all levels, those working to improve the educational system in China are realizing the need to move beyond a narrow focus on test preparation and toward a system that will enable Chinese students to acquire a broad range of skills needed to succeed in a global society.

4)      In China, how are teachers recruited and trained?

The Chinese Director General of Education spoke of the need to recruit qualified teachers to the profession and explained that they offer full college scholarships to talented students in exchange for a ten-year commitment to teaching in China. China has a great need for teachers in rural areas, and this is an area of focus.

5)   In the United States, it seems teachers are forever in meetings- curriculum, 504, IEP’s and other meetings. Is this the best use of their time?

Teachers need as much time as possible during the school day with their students for instructional and planning purposes, but we also need time to meet to discuss issues that directly impact student progress and achievement. There has to be a balance.

6)   In the U.S., we seem to be confronted with more and more students with exceptionalities being included in the regular education classroom. In terms of pedagogy, is this the most efficient approach?

Students with exceptionalities can thrive in the regular education classroom. For example, in my Advanced Placement Chemistry classroom, students with special needs such as Asperger’s syndrome, dysgraphia, and dyslexia have achieved success. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students have also achieved high levels of success both in regular education classrooms and in classrooms in residential schools where instruction is delivered exclusively in American Sign Language. Our goal as educators is to meet the needs of each individual student, and that goal can be achieved in a variety of settings.

7)   How supportive are parents in China?

The parents I interacted with in China realize the central role of education in securing their child’s future. They expressed their desire for their child to make the most of educational opportunities and to gain access to the best high school and university possible.

8)   How motivated are the students in China compared to those in the United States?

The Chinese teachers I spoke with expressed concern that high stakes testing has a negative effect on student motivation, i.e. that Chinese students feel “forced” to drill for exams. The Chinese teachers believe their students would benefit from having electives and choices within their instructional programs that would generate interest in a variety of subjects and encourage independent thinking and creativity.

9)   How important is creativity in your mind, and what are the standardized tests during to squelch it in the United States?

Creativity is one of many important aspects of learning for our students. Teachers at all levels strive to promote creative problem solving and critical thinking skills and to create situations in which students can collaborate and communicate effectively. Our students also need to develop independence, self-confidence, resilience, perseverance, and adaptability to navigate our increasingly complex society. The Chinese are realizing that their focus on testing is “squelching” their students’ joy for learning and their development of other essential skills. In the United States, we also need to look beyond standardized tests toward more authentic tools of assessment that are useful in promoting the skills students need to succeed in school, in the workplace, and in life.

10)  What have I neglected to ask?

I believe you’ve covered it! Thank you!

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