Name: Michael FlynnAward: Massachusetts Teacher of the Year 2008
The children in Michael Flynn’s class at William E. Norris Elementary School in Southampton, Massachusetts, aren’t just second graders, they’re TV stars. Several times a year, Flynn’s students find it hard to enter the cafeteria without other students asking them for their autographs. So it goes when your teacher has you make a video report on every unit you finish, and then broadcasts the 40-minute production (on subjects like weather or life in the polar regions) to the whole school.
Flynn, who studied video production in college, calls his student-actors “The Flynnsters.” With a little guidance from him, they break up into teams and write comedy sketches, do standup routines, or imitate the evening news. Flynn shows them how to make virtual backdrops using a green-screen, and then edits the pieces together, adding in sound and special effects. The only thing more impressive than the production value is the pint-sized actors’ enthusiasm.
Often, his students become so fascinated with the experience of seeing themselves in such high quality videos that they watch, and re-watch, the shows to the point that they learn them by heart. “It just helps them get deeper and deeper into it,” says Flynn. “I work really hard to make everything I teach really engaging. For instance, my kids think I eat and live and dream spelling, because I get so excited about it. But that’s what you have to do to get them excited.”
Flynn’s road to teaching began with an episode that seems straight out of The Wonder Years. When he broke his arm in the fifth grade, the principal suggested that he come to his office and read instead of going to recess. A class clown, Flynn had often been disciplined by his principal, but he got to see another side of him during these recess sessions. “He had me read The Indian in the Cupboard to him. We made a promise that we’d start it and finish it together, but he passed away before we got to the last chapter,” Flynn says. In graduate school, he broke the promise and finally finished the book. It was then that he realized how formative that experience had been: “I thought about how much time he’d given me. He really cared.”
That principal’s interest in him, and his commitment to finding a way to make the young Flynn feel both important and interested in learning, informs all of Flynn’s scholastic efforts, be it raising Atlantic salmon with his second graders, teaching future teachers at Westfield State College, or partnering with special education instructors to create goals that are specific to each student, not just benchmarks set by the state.
“If you’re passionate about something and you bring that into the classroom, then you’re helping to create buzz and energy, and that’s so important,” says Flynn. “I’ve had teachers say that it’s nice that I do what I do, but they can’t do anything like that because they teach older kids who need to worry about testing. I don’t buy that argument, my kids will have to take the state tests, too, but I want them to enjoy the process of learning. That’s what’s going to keep them engaged as they grow.”