Thank you for your service, George Anderson
When George Anderson was named Iowa’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, he had no idea what awaited him. Namely, a pandemic. And because of the pandemic, an unprecedented two-year term as Iowa’s Teacher of the Year (applications weren’t accepted for the 2021 position because of COVID).
“Yeah, it lasted a little longer than I thought,” Anderson said with characteristic aplomb. “But it allowed me to get out more to see educators across the state.”
And what he saw he liked. A lot.
“I was surprised by how much schools are doing everywhere,” he said. “I had this vision that my district was doing great things that others weren’t. But even in the small districts, they are doing incredible things. I was surprised to see the amount of commitment to the state’s initiatives.”
Anderson, a 46-year-old high school history teacher from the Cedar Rapids Community School District, said he’s most impressed by school districts’ responses to the needs of their communities.
“One of the biggest things I saw across the state was where teachers and schools provide innovative responses to community needs,” he said. “Right after the derecho in Cedar Rapids, for instance, the district did everything. We had teacher volunteer crews out picking up debris, we had food centers across the city.
“And the pandemic threw all educators off and, man, did they step to the plate.”
But a school district being responsive goes beyond a city in distress or a pandemic. It also responds to the needs of area businesses.
“We’ve had a shift in the way schools approach their craft,” Anderson said. “The sheer scope of needs within a community is impressive. I see teachers one minute work on a social-emotional component with a student and then pivot to teaching career building. I was watching micro examples of macro initiatives in every district.”
Anderson is particularly impressed with how districts have embraced Career and Technical Education, which are educational programs offering a sequence of courses that prepare students for employment in current or new occupations.
“The big picture is that teachers in schools are being very responsive to the needs in the community, from a derecho to manufacturing plants in West Delaware (County) where they need welders. Today kids who want to can jump into good-paying jobs.
“It’s amazing the amount of partnerships that are going on between schools and businesses and community colleges. They reach out to students to go into nursing, welding, health care – all jobs that pay well and are in high demand.”
Anderson sees this approach being especially successful in smaller communities.
“When they can teach local students an in-demand job within their community, those students have a reason to stay in their community and not leave it for another job,” he said.
On his travels around the state, the former Marine met with soon-to-be educators as well as emerging educators. He made sure to show them a slide of a Marine sergeant screaming at a subordinate, telling the educators “these are the good times.
“Not anyone can be a Marine. So even though that guy is being screamed at, he has to take pride he’s made it where most people cannot. And to that end, not anyone can be a teacher. Yes, this is a hard job, this is hard work. But you should take pride in this. Not everyone can do this job.”