Jul 31, 2014 02:21PM ● Published by Dia
by Gina Mayfield
The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher
explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
With that famous William Arthur Ward quote, Jared Sutton wisely begins the Philosophy of Teaching section of his Texas Teacher of the Year application for 2015, an award he now qualifies for after earning the Secondary Teacher of the Year Award from Carroll ISD.
Jared always knew he wanted to teach history. But during his college years at the University of North Texas, he says, “I was more interested in the subject matter itself than taking a bunch of classes on how to run a classroom.” It was there he met professor Rick Range, who Jared says could make history come alive. Jared knew then and there what he was meant to do: become a storyteller.
Jared’s passion for history led him down a long and winding road, one that would land him in an eighth grade U.S. history classroom at George Dawson Middle School.
With a double major in Political Science and History, and a master of arts in U.S. History, Jared got off to a pretty good start. But just as he was nearing graduation, the economy took a turn for the worse. Armed with an alternative certification and no formal teaching experience, Jared’s prospects looked bleak. Then he came across a now-defunct campus of Winfree Academy Charter Schools in Grapevine, an alternative education program where, as its homepage states, students come to “recover lost credits and skills.” As Jared so humbly puts it, “They were gracious enough to offer me my first teaching job.”
But, as it turned out, skills and credits weren’t all that was lost. Jared describes the student body as “gang members, drug addicts and the 10 percent no school wants.” Other schools sent their students to Winfree as a last ditch effort to get them an education, and not many came by choice. But Jared says some of his greatest rewards in teaching came during those years at Winfree. “I wouldn’t trade those three years in education for anything. I learned how to relate to students there. I learned how to build relationships.”
While teaching at Winfree, Jared also worked a second job as an adjunct professor of U.S. History at North Central Texas College before hearing about an opening at Dawson. He jumped at the chance to teach history in a more traditional school setting. Although Dawson students come from different backgrounds, the skill set he learned at Winfree still applied. “Underneath all the deep layers, whether they’re an affluent child of Southlake, a valedictorian candidate or whatever, they all have heart. You have to figure out how to reach them. That’s the common denominator.”
For Jared, that relationship building is the key to edu-cation in general. One of his biggest goals in teaching is to make students feel cared for and appreciated, which in turn will make them want to come to class and learn. “You can have the most fantastic teacher in the world, and if they can’t relate to kids, and they can’t build relationships with kids, those kids will not learn. They just won’t. Because they don’t have faith in you, that you care for them. They don’t have the desire to be with you and around you, and that’s what makes a teacher a teacher. Kids need to want to come and be around you, then they’re absorbing what you have to tell them.”
And Jared has a lot to say. He believes the best way to benefit the students you teach — and the teachers you work with — is to develop a deeper knowledge of your subject matter. In 2011, Jared was one of only 20 history teachers from across the country, and the only representative from the state of Texas, chosen to attend the Bill of Rights Institute’s Founders Fellowship in Washington, D.C., a week-long in-depth study into the country’s founders. Constitutional scholars offer tours of the National Archives, Mount Vernon and other historical sites, and educators walk away with lesson plans and classroom applications in order to pass on their knowledge to students, something he’s free to do at Dawson.
Jared says the greatest joy in teaching for Carroll ISD is the freedom the school district allows him. “They allow teachers to try. They allow teachers to be different. They allow teachers to experiment.” In other parts of the state, he says, curriculum is pre-determined and so is how you teach it.
Jared credits Carolyn Pruitt, the History Department chair at Dawson, as a contributing factor to his success and a big supporter. “When there’s an opportunity to try something new, that’s different and out of the box and challenging, we typically jump feet first to try that kind of stuff, whether it’s building faux Facebook pages or creating Twitter exchanges with historical figures. Those are risky things to do because they’ll either work and students will learn from them or they fail miserably,” he says.
As tech-driven as students are today, they still love the old-school stuff too. To that end, Jared’s students clean cotton to demonstrate the usefulness of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, dig for gold (albeit in the form of painted fish tank rocks) to experience the fever pitch of the California Gold Rush, and communicate via a telegraph machine to learn the significance of Samuel Morse. Yet Jared fully embraces the tech-driven society we live in today. He takes part in Dragons Go Digital, the Carroll ISD Technology Department’s year-long program for tech-savvy educators looking for training, resources and collaboration.
Outside the classroom, Jared also sponsors the student council, a group that works not only to benefit the school, but the community at large. This past school year, the council hosted a school-wide Stuff the Bus toy drive and hand delivered the toys to Grace Grapevine, which proved to be a humbling experience for his students as they learned the difference between needs and wants first-hand.
Carroll allows you the opportunity to go out and be you and teach your style, and supports you in a way to really influence kids. That’s a huge thing. You have the ability to do basically whatever you want, that you think is best to help kids. That’s powerful.”