Washington, DC, April 30, 2008 – Unifying teaching and learning through creativity, collegiality, community interests as well as individual, and just a bit of what he calls “craziness”, defines Michael Geisen’s approach to working with, in his words, “my fellow human beings…my students.”
Because of his innovative approach, community focus, and teamwork with other teachers, Geisen was named 2008 National Teacher of the Year by President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony on April 30, 2008. Also recognized at this event were the 2008 state teachers of the year.
The National Teacher of the Year Program, sponsored by the ING Foundation, is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). CCSSO is a nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. “Geisen is exactly the type of educator we want to acknowledge. He believes in and encourages collaboration between and among teachers and school leaders as he knows this brings the right focus on the student,” said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of CCSSO. “We at CCSSO are supportive and working toward creating a collaborative and student-centered 21st century educator development system and are pleased to have our National Teacher of the Year reflect our values and direction in this area of work.”
The National Teacher of the Year Program focuses public attention on teaching excellence and is the oldest and most prestigious awards program for teachers. According to Rhonda Mims, president of the ING Foundation, ING is proud to collaborate with CCSSO to celebrate the national and state teachers of the year. "We are committed to honoring excellence in education, and it’s important for us to support educators who are dedicated to empowering our children to excel in school,” Mims said.
Geisen, a science teacher at Crook County Middle School in Prineville, Oregon, is the 58th National Teacher of the Year. He will begin a year as a full-time national and international spokesperson for education on June 1, 2008.
“A great teacher,” he says, “is a unifier of ideas, a unifier of people, and a unifier of ideas with people. In my teaching I strive to bring together creativity and science, to unite my students into a community, and to help each person in this community connect with the big ideas of science.”
Working to keep textbooks to, as he describes it, 97 percent colorful wall decoration and 3 percent reference materials, this seventh-grade teacher strives consistently to keep all of his curriculum, labs, assignments, activities and evaluations hand-tailored.
As Geisen explains, “By doing so, I’m able to correlate them exactly with the Oregon standards, incorporate multiple levels of cognition, revise them when needed and keep them up to date with emerging science. Some of them are based on ideas that colleagues or students have shared with me, but many of them I simply dream up while in the shower or while driving to work. However they originate, I try to put a bit of myself, a bit of Prineville, and a good dose of humor and creativity into each activity, project or assignment. In fact, students even laugh during tests in our class.
“When students know that it’s not just some writer of some worksheet out there that wants them to do something,” he continues, “but that it’s local and applicable to their lives, they start to get interested. And when students are interested, they start to ask real questions. And when they ask questions, they’re on their way to becoming great scientists and learners. This enthusiasm becomes contagious, and kids spread it around our building and take it home to their families. It doesn’t happen every day for every child, but it happens frequently enough to call it a pattern. Even the non-mathematical/non-scientific kids get into it when creativity and science fuse together.”
Focusing on the research that shows when both sides of the brain are engaged, more authentic learning occurs Geisen has, as his continuous goal and hope, to ignite such passion for learning in as many people as possible and to help them make informed decisions in their everyday lives. As he explains, “I allow my curiosity and enthusiasm for learning to match my students’, and we inspire each other to further explore and wonder about the big questions and the little details that make our world so fascinating.”
Rocky Miner, Crook County Middle School Principal, calls Geisen a “natural” at understanding the middle school student and making positive connections with them, but equally applauds his leadership skills and deep understanding of the whole middle school science curriculum that helps his fellow science teachers. And in letters of recommendation that came with his National Teacher of the Year application, his students and colleagues echo these sentiments, using such terms to describe Geisen and his work as “genuine,” “heart felt,” and “imaginative.” As one of his recent students, Karlie Grasle, said, “I think if he wanted to, he could make watching grass grow interesting.”
Geisen was born in Seattle, Washington, on April 27, 1973, and graduated in 1991 from Kentridge High School in Kent, Washington.
He received his bachelor’s degree in Forest Resource Management from the University of Washington in 1996, graduating magna cum laude. He began his professional career as a forester but while this was satisfying work for a while, eventually he missed the direct connection with people.
Early in his forestry career, Geisen spent several months as a teaching assistant at the University of Washington’s experimental forest. “For 12–14 hours a day, I designed and implemented exercises to teach forestry majors the field skills they needed to succeed, and spent hours in the forest helping them, guiding them and getting to know them. But for several years, I had been working as a professional forester using those same skills… alone. One day on a rainy hillside, I realized why I was barely able to get up every morning: I needed to give. My vocation needed to have deeper meaning, to have relationship, to have heart. I needed to teach.”
Geisen earned a Master of Arts in Teaching, with a science endorsement, from Southern Oregon University in 2001 and began teaching that fall at Crook County Middle School.
He is married to Jennifer Geisen and they have two children ages eight and five.
A committee of representatives from 15 national education organizations chooses the National Teacher of the Year from among the state teachers of the year, including those representing American Samoa, Department of Defense Education Activity, District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands.
The other 2008 National Teacher of the Year finalists are Lewis Chappelear, an engineering and design teacher at James Monroe High School in North Hills, California; June Teisan, a science teacher at Harper Woods Secondary School in Harper Woods, Michigan; and Thomas R. Smigiel, Jr., a teen leadership and science teacher at Norview High School in Norfolk, Virginia.
State teachers of the year are selected on the basis of nominations by students, teachers, principals, and school district administrators throughout the states. Applications are then submitted to CCSSO, where the national selection committee reviews the data on each state candidate and selects the four finalists. The selection committee then personally interviews each finalist before naming the National Teacher of the Year. Additional information on the National Teacher of the Year Program can be accessed at .