Editor’s note: Through our “Exceptional Educator” articles, Reporter Newspapers is showcasing the work and thoughts of some of the outstanding teachers in our local schools. If you would like to recommend an Exceptional Educator, plase email editor@ReporterNewspapers.net

 Erik Vincent teaches global studies and history at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School. He’s been teaching for 11 years.

Q: What attracted you to teaching at first?

A: I’ve always loved being a student and had some very good teachers in high school and college who inspired me with their energy, creativity and genuine love for teaching.  I saw teaching as a way to stay connected to the subject matter that interested me and spark the same conversations with younger kids that drew me in all those years ago.  My first year was terrible, and many times I wondered, “Am I really any good at this?”  But, in the midst of the hard, long days, I caught glimpses of what teaching could be and I hung on to that.

Q: Has the appeal changed?

A: Yes, it’s like a taste for something that matures, at least it’s been like that for me after a decade.   I no longer get excited about planning the “perfect lesson” (did I ever?) or even about the content.  I still love learning new things, reading, staying on top of my field, but the best interactions I have in the classroom these days are those “off script” moments that come when you dare greatly to wonder (and wander) into open space by letting students drive discussions.  It takes a certain comfort level with discomfort, a facilitator’s gift honed over time, and a strong sense of your identity and integrity as an educator to embrace those moments and see them for the real learning opportunities they represent.  That’s what appeals to me now.

Q: What keeps you going year after year?

A: Good friends and a supportive family with whom I can share war stories and download without having to keep it all together, “wisdom literature” to refer back to from time to time (I’ve rediscovered Palmer’s The Courage to Teach and it’s a wholly different read than it was for me in college), knowing that, even if not especially when things get hard, I am in my element, to borrow a phrase from Ken Robinson.  Those things.  And let’s be honest, there’s a reason God invented bourbon.

 Q: What do you think makes a great teacher?

A: A strong sense of your own identity and integrity as a teacher and a willingness to be vulnerable with your kids—to treat them as partners, nay co-equals, in learning.  Content knowledge, technique—that’s all secondary.

Q: What do you want to see in your students?

Honest wondering, naked curiosity, the courage to think out loud without fear of constantly being assessed for what they say, think and do, sincere commitment and ownership of their own learning, a thirst for that more perfect question.

 Q: How do you engage your students?

A: I’m a nerd. It runs the gamut: stories, accents, costuming, role-play, film, music, debates, competitions.  I also feed them, a lot … really it can vary.

 Q: Do you have a project or special program you use year after year?

A: A few.  I’m quite fond of the StarPower simulation.  Incredibly versatile.  And I’m a big fan of the Harkness method, though I do it differently each time.  I also have a few readings that have become canon in my classes: Illich’s “To Hell with Good Intentions,” anything by Pico Iyer or Mark Twain, excerpts from David Brook’s The Road to Character (a recent addition) that highlight the distinction between resume values and eulogy values, MLK Jr.’s “Drum Major’s Instinct” sermon (the whole thing) and Cornell West’s “You Are Loved.”

Q: Is there a “trick” that works to get students involved?

A: No tricks.

 Q: What do you hope your students take away from your class?

A: Beyond anything else, I want my students to experience my teaching as love embodied in pedagogy.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.