A Q&A with Minnesota VIVA Teacher-Leader Wade Sutton, co-author of the Minnesota report on principal evaluation and our newest VIVA blogger.
1. Where do you teach?
I am the English instructor at Indus School in Birchdale, Minnesota.
2. What do you teach?
I teach 7th through 12th grade English. I also am teaching AP Literature and Composition for one student in 11th grade concurrently as differentiation. I have taught Spanish in the high school and now volunteer my lunch hour to teach Spanish to K-3.
3. How/ why did you become a teacher?
My parents were educators in international schools in Brazil and in Mexico. I considered other careers, but I settled on doing something that I loved. I pursued an education in English and have no regrets. I get to mentor and educate students all day, discuss novels, practice communication. I really can’t complain.
4. Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 30 years?
In 5 years, I will still be teaching. I may study for my administrative licensure or my doctorate in English. I would like to pursue opening a charter school that integrates educating elementary/high school students and educating teacher-candidates through experience. Or maybe politics. In 30 years, I will be 64. Hopefully, I will know a lot more then.
5. What’s your favorite teaching quote or advice?
I have two. Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” and G.K. Chesterton: “Without an education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” The former drives my standards and expectations high; the latter keeps me honest.
6. How do you influence policy at your school?
I have hope. I never lose sight of that. I do my job well and pursue criticism to find out the areas where I fall short. I treat my administrators as equals and worthy of respect no more or less than my peers or students. I am honest with both. I enjoy talking to the board members of my school and am purposefully terrible at school politics and speak my mind. I was taught that if you want to affect those around you, genuine relationships really are the key. To influence policy, honestly, I have to be extremely patient. A former principal told me that I was the most “farsighted, untenured teacher” he had ever met. An idea for policy mentioned now will probably not be applied for years. I keep planting seeds of innovative ideas that require policies to evolve. I try to show the need for this through work in the classroom, in discussions on committees and in informal settings. Mostly, I have hope and enjoy what I do.
7. How are you a VIVA Teacher-Leader?
I really enjoyed the project VIVA organized in Minnesota. I wrote for hours and hours and worked with some great people. Since then I have been working on putting some blogs together on educational philosophy and policy. It is important to stay informed on policy that will affect my students. This has renewed my energy and that goes a long way.
8. What issue do you think VIVA should do an idea exchange about in your city?
That is easy: classroom size. I teach in a small school right next to a district with overwhelming class sizes. How can we force class sizes down to numbers where we are not producing assembly line graduates but creative citizens?
9. What advice would you give to teachers who want to be involved in education reform, but who don’t think they have the time?
Make the time. Do not be cynical. Just do small things and you will see the effect you can have.
10. How can VIVA help you be a more active teacher-leader?
They already have. I look forward to writing more. They have given me direction for topics and have provided an outlet for my voice to be heard. I look forward to taking advantage of their hard work. I do hope to be involved again at some point on an online policy discussion. Their use of technology really made the world of education a smaller place for me. Even though I have settled into a small, rural school, I know that we have advantages, opportunities and innovations from which other schools could learn. VIVA is a good platform for bringing school professionals together across the state and country so we can lead together.