Teacher of the Year Beth Oswald: Curating Education
Posted on December 21, 2010
Name: Beth Oswald
Award: 2008 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year
Studying at Walden: Doctor of Education (EdD)
Beth Oswald was working as a grocery clerk when she first fell in love with history. For more than a decade after high school, she spent her days ruminating on mundane issues like paper vs. plastic and debit vs. credit. “I thought, I’m too smart for this!” she says.
So in her mid-20s, Oswald started attending college during her off hours. She signed up for a history class because all the other courses she wanted were full and before long, she was hooked.
Her passion and perseverance has left an impression on students and administrators alike: In 2008, Oswald, who is currently working toward a doctorate in Teacher Leadership at Walden, was named Wisconsin Teacher of the Year.
Many teachers’ successes, Oswald argues, can largely be credited to others. “As a social studies teacher, I’m more like a Roman than a Greek,” she says. “The Greeks came up with all these wonderful ideas and inventions but when the Romans took over, they took all the ideas and theories and put them to use. I’ve always been good at looking at what other people are doing and thinking “Oh, I could use that in my class.”
In Oswald’s classroom, this kind of fluid transfer of ideas from Greek to Roman, from adult to child, from student to student is something that breeds excitement in her students. After all, education is, at its foundation, about sharing knowledge. One way in which Oswald imparts this message to her students is by having them set up their own “museum” each year, and the goal, ostensibly, is to share what they’re learning with the sixth graders who come and visit the exhibits.
It all started during Oswald’s Ancient Egypt section 6 years ago. After the kids each made a project that related to reports they’d done about Egypt, Oswald sought the guidance of the education specialists at the Logan Museum of Anthropology. With their help, she had each student make a matted, 50-word, museum-style label (targeted at their sixth-grade audience). The students then set up their displays on a dozen 8-foot tables in a school resource room. The first year, the Logan Museum curator was so impressed with the project that she had her own students at Beloit College create a display of the children’s work at the college. A movie theater in Madison, Wis., followed suit by displaying some of the “artifacts” in the lobby when it was showing the film Night at the Museum.
Oswald’s much-acclaimed museum project has piqued the interests of even the most challenging students. “I get gifted kids, I get non-verbal kids, and I want each of them to leave the room knowing something more than they knew before they came in,” she says. “One student in my class really struggled. And I asked the kid to help me set up a museum, I lured him with an offer of milk and cookies.” This student was given the title of “curator” and was bursting with pride when he saw how well the museum turned out. “The local newspaper came down and photographed all the kids working on setting things up,” Oswald says.” I got enough newspapers for everyone and this one student clutched the paper and said to me, “When I die, they are going to bury it with me. I’m going to keep this forever.”