There’s nothing more joyful to observe than to see a student use what he’s been learning in the classroom and transfer it into the real world, especially in day to day social conversations. And my, oh, my, I have certainly heard more Spanish than ever in our hallways lately between students and their friends! Whether students are greeting one another in Spanish or talking about family and friends en español, watching them enjoy and engage themselves in the language is SUCH a rewarding sight as an educator. In fact, Spanish teachers are not always easy to find, and we are so blessed to have an incredible team of three that includes Mr. Michael Oliver, January’s Teacher of the Month.
Whether discussing the best way to teach Spanish with research-based strategies or watching Mr. Oliver engage students with hands on activities focusing on language-immersion rather than rote learning, it is clear that he has a passion for the students here at Beach High School and a desire to make learning fun and meaningful for them. In his younger years, though he is certainly still a spring chicken, or shall we say a pollo primavera, Mr. Oliver himself lived with an Ecuadorean family for 5 weeks during his language immersion, even working in Latin America for 12 years, continuing his use and learning of Spanish. Educationally and professionally, he touts an IBA in Journalism (University of Connecticut 1991) and a MS in International Relations (Troy University 2004), learning Spanish at Army's BALT Course at Fort Bragg's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. A veteran himself, his service in the Army has only enriched the depth of learning he has experienced.
A new teacher in his second year at Beach, Oliver shares one of his strengths while commending his colleagues:, “I am still learning what good classroom management is and think I can learn more from other teachers in the building than they can learn from me. But I think that a big [strength] for me is consistency. Being fair and consistent with the students goes a long way in "leading" them. While I understand that they are still kids and are prone to doing what kids tend to do, I try to treat them like young adults until they give me a reason not to. One of the lessons I learned in the Army by observing other commander is that, if you treat your soldiers like children that can't be trusted, they will resent you and will act like children that can't be trusted. I see our students in the same light.” Mr. Oliver clearly understands that giving students a firm, fair and consistent experience in his classroom is the foundation to meaningful relationships.
But in order to form these relationships, it does take a bit of frontloading the semester with some rote learning himself. Mr. Oliver learns the students' names as quickly as possible as he believes there is power in a person's name. He comments, "And there is power in anonymity. If I can remove the power of anonymity quickly, some power shifts to the person who knows the other person's name. For example, "Hey you, remove that hood!" might be seen as a bit confrontational and might not be as effective as "[Insert Any Student's Name Here], please remove your hood. Thank you." Clearly, Oliver knows that a key to classroom management is using words effectively in order to share partnership and not create a power struggle. A few nice words go a very long way.
When we pressed him for his greatest strategies as a teacher, he argues that in everything, he commits to “Being myself. Being genuine. And genuinely caring about whether the students are learning or not.”
In terms of teaching strategies, he is “currently exploring/applying a strategy called Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) coupled with what I had begun using last semester called Total Physical Response (TPR)...They are experiential and require that students comprehend what you are saying in the target language (Spanish) in various contexts. Both strategies require comprehension of the language in various and repetitive contexts in order that students "internalize" the language versus "learn" it.” After talking with Mr. Oliver about this topic, I’m sure he will complete a dissertation after he couples it with research in the classroom.
And Mr. Oliver is not without the support of a loving wife and two amazing daughters.. His wife, Amanda, and he have been married twenty-two years. One of his daughters, Caitlyn, graduates from Georgia Southern this May, following in her father’s footsteps as a Journalism major but adding on a minor in marketing. His youngest daughter, Adrienne, just began college this year at Drexel University in Philadelphia; she inherited the artistic gene and is studying Animation. Clearly, Mr. Oliver not only serves as a steady and consistent father figure to his own family but as a constant and consistent example for our students.
But the life of a well-researched Spanish teacher and army veteran is not without its own challenges and obstacles. Mr. Oliver shares that one of his biggest struggles is cell phones. He is “starting to think that these infernal devices were created by Lucifer in the Center of the Nine Rings of Hell and, delivered into the hands of our students by the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, [because they] are sure to try your patience and endurance as a human being.” And on that count, we know he must have already found a way for destroying that "wicked problem," because whatever he’s doing, students are learning to use Spanish in their everyday lives and more than that, they are using it for fun in their social interactions with friends. Oh for us to see our content in the hallways, made powerful in the hands of those we love and teach! That is perhaps is our biggest compliment as a teacher.
In honor of our SuperTeacher Mr. Oliver, let’s choose a book either related to education or our content area and read it this month to challenge us in our classroom to help us help students. Let us also issue a challenge to our students to use what they learn and share it with another. If you follow the challenge, comment below what books you read or what student-based content challenge you issued so we can learn from you!
Mr. Oliver, Congratulations on the distinction of Teacher of the Month; we certainly appreciate your "Twist" on Learning.