North Carolina New Schools

Bringing a Teacher’s Voice to the Table

by Ben Owens


Bringing a Teacher’s Voice to the Table

[Photo: Tri-County Early College teacher Ben Owens works with students during their project-based learning (PBL) authentic assessments on the conservation of momentum for physics.]

I often think about what I would be doing if I had not decided about ten years ago to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher. I was, after all, in a well-paid job as an engineer with a Fortune 15 company and doing really fascinating work.

But something was missing — something I could not put my finger on until my first in-classroom experience as part of my Master’s of Teaching degree program. This “something” is what now keeps me going in my second career: the spark of intrigue, excitement, and wonder in my students! Teaching has become like an addictive drug and I will do almost anything to get the next fix.

This is my simple explanation to questions about why I am so passionate about my job. It also explains the unorthodox methods I employ in my classroom and is why I feel so fortunate to be partner with NC New Schools as a science and math teacher at Tri-County Early College, where innovation, rigor, and teaching excellence are basic expectations.

So for me to now be named as one of thirteen 2014 Hope Street Group National Teaching Fellows is both a shock (to me personally!) and then not really a surprise, considering all the outstanding work the NC New Schools network of leaders is bringing to bear on public education — work that has clearly been the biggest influence over the seven years I have developed my teaching craft.

So it is now a thrill and honor to be associated with yet another major player working to transform the teaching profession and improve outcomes for students. Hope Street Group has a solid history of doing fiercely nonpartisan and results-oriented work that is aimed at the real issues facing public education, especially relative to policies to ensure every classroom has a highly skilled teacher, truly impactful professional learning is provided to all teachers, and college and work ready standards are effective implemented and promoted. Their National Teacher Fellowship program provides educators the training, support, and tools they need to connect policymaker goals with on-the-ground expertise. In short, Hope Street believes that tough education problems can best be solved by involving effective teacher voice, rather than through traditional bureaucracies.

This is why I am so excited about this work. When I and my fellow teachers can, with absolute confidence of what works in the classroom, engage at the highest levels in the difficult discussions facing today’s educational systems, then we have not only begun the job of restoring public confidence in our profession, but also have created one part of the path to becoming the best educational system on the planet. Doing so means that we, as teachers, are not only able to point to unquestionable results in student performance, but we are also helping to make a tangible difference in the economic trajectory of our nation. Nothing else, in my view, is acceptable as we prepare our students for the challenges they and this country will face in today’s modern workplace.

Sure I gave up being an engineer to teach — but I now have the best job anyone could ask for because I am part of two great organizations that are making a real difference in the lives of students.

This post is the first of what I hope is a series of conversations about what I can do in this role over the next year. I welcome your insights, ideas and experiences as we work to scale real solutions across our district, region and state.

Ben Owens is a mathematics and physics teacher  at Tri-County Early College, a school partnering with NC New Schools.