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Educators Who Change Lives

Sarah Brown Wessling

Johnston High School, Johnston, Iowa

Photo by Holly McQueen, Copyright 2009, The Des Moines Register and Tribune Company. Reprinted with permission.

2010 National Teacher of the Year

Every single person who walks into my classroom becomes part of our landscape for learning. As a learner-centered teacher, I respect who students are right now… TYLER: Troubled and angry; intelligent and formidable. I discovered through daily journals that Tyler loved to draw and for several weeks asked him to bring in some of his artwork until he finally did … and tacked it to the bulletin board. Later, my AP class came in and immediately recognized in it literary archetypes. I quickly asked the students to write down their thoughts and post notes on the illustration. The next morning I had a note ready for Tyler: “The greatest measure of an artist’s worth is the impact he can make on others. Look what you’ve done.” This didn’t magically transform my class, but Tyler came and said hello nearly every day for the next two years as [he] struggled time and again, just to graduate.

HANNAH: Exceedingly intelligent but unmotivated; gregariously confident but bored. Instead of meeting [reluctant students] with frustration or an admonition that they aren’t living up to their abilities, I’ve always had a special affinity for their teenage angst. I love challenging these learners to recognize that while school may be a game to them, learning is entirely different: it empowers and liberates. At the end of an intense project, Hannah came rushing to my room with product in hand and said, “It is for the love of Wessling that I actually finished this.” Underlying this quip lies a truth: Reluctant isn’t reticent when our classrooms become places of acceptance and promise…

Excerpted from Wessling’s TOY application.



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