Editorial- Unique teaching style nets teacher award


LidiaAnn Edwards, Reporter

Our teachers here at Big Spring work hard, but no one works harder to make learning fun than Dean Smith. Each year the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) gives grants to four teachers for innovative teaching strategies. Their Innovative Teaching Grants Program was started in 1972. According to Voice, the PSEA’s official magazine, the grants are awarded to to members who contribute to teaching in an innovative way. Smith, a ninth grade English teacher, has earned this great honor. Smith uses engaging and relevant readings focused on helping students develop their reading and writing skills. Smith also frequently uses survival themes combined with hands-on activities to aid his end goal.

“If you give me time to read a book, thank you  Jesus, leave me alone, I’ll read, I’m happy, I’m a happy man,” Smith says. Five years ago, he volunteered to try and pass his love of reading on to students who don’t want to read or students have trouble with reading and reading comprehension. Originally, Smith started with Read 180, teaching in a “traditional” way, a way that he has since realized is tedious and boring. Then, he had an epiphany about a year ago, “I realized, OK, for a reading class, it really doesn’t matter what we read as long as we’re reading and working on our reading comprehension skills, so I decided let’s start reading stuff that really a) is interesting and b) really matters.”

With this in mind, Smith revamped his curriculum, focusing more on hands-on activities. When boys in his class started to show interest in the Survival Handbook that came with the Read 180 program, Smith decided to add survival-themed lessons to his curriculum.  Some lessons were how to get out of quicksand – limit your movements and try to get on your back or stomach, – how to make a life jacket out of a pair of pants, what to do if you’re attacked by a bear, and what to do if you’re lost in a forest – Stay put, unless 1) you are injured and need help or 2) you’ve been lost for an extended amount of time, in which case you can work on navigating your way out. Students then write their own survival manual based off of articles they have read independently and from class lessons.

In addition, Smith brought in local self-defense experts to teach students how to avoid situations that would put them in danger. Along with the self-defense lessons, students have to do a research paper based on articles that they themselves choose on how to avoid dangerous or compromising situations and how to respond when approached or attacked by an assailant. Another section of his curriculum is based solely on first aid. Smith gets the dummies that are used for CPR and teaches the students how to do CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. He also teaches them what to do when a person is having a heart attack or stroke, when a person has a compound fracture, severe bleeding, what to do when a person has drowned, what to do with an epileptic person when they have a seizure, and what to do when a person has 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

However, while the main portion of his teaching is taken up with survival themes, Smith leaves activities up to students. He wants to keep the curriculum as hands-on as possible because, “hands-on teaching is the best you can do, so the more I include that, the better.” For Smith, the purpose of the course is to get reading levels up and his personal goal to reach that end is to keep the material as interesting and hands-on as possible.