Sean Strange ’91 was recently honored as one of Fort Worth ISD’s Academic Chairs for Teaching Excellence in the area of Secondary English. Strange is an English teacher at North Side High School and has taught in Fort Worth ISD for 25 years. We asked him about his teaching philosophy and how Texas Wesleyan prepared him for career success.
What is the key to being successful in the classroom?
You must have a passion for what you do. As an English teacher, I want my students to know that I enjoy the stories we read, both fiction and non-fiction. When students recognize your passion for a text, they are more willing to give it a chance. I also encourage my students to find themselves within the texts that we read. Thus, as we experience a work such as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, students can see the struggles of the star-crossed lovers at the same time they examine their own lives and the choices they will make regarding parental or societal expectations.
How do you engage your students, in-person and virtually?
Instruction in this time of distance learning has been the greatest challenge in my teaching career. Students use technology daily, but not in the same way we need for instruction. To engage my students, I try to recreate the normality of a traditional classroom. I ask students to respond either verbally or through the chat feature. On occasion, students are separated into breakout groups to enable small groups of scholars to engage in discussion. A final way I seek engagement is through posted videos. During the spring, I posted daily videos to encourage my scholars to keep on task. This fall, I post an overview video each week which is sent out to both students and their parents.
How did your education at Texas Wesleyan help you be an effective teacher?
Texas Wesleyan provided both subject knowledge and practical application of teaching strategies in the classroom. As a double major in English and history, I took multiple classes from the small cadre of professors who taught in these fields. Each brought their own style and perspective on the topics. During my last year on campus, before a semester of student teaching, I felt comfortable as a scholar of both literature and history. Classes focused on connecting ideas together rather than a rote memorization of facts. This deeper thinking is something I want my own students to be able to do as we explore literature, and at times the history surrounding a piece.
What are your best memories from your time at Texas Wesleyan?
When I entered college, I was challenged from the beginning by Dr. Jeffrey Delotto. From a conference three weeks into the school year to being one point short of an A in the spring, he recognized I could do better. He challenged me and I accepted through multiple classes beyond freshman English. The individual class that stood out the most was in a creative writing course I took my junior year. After our peer review of the fiction assignment, I was excited that others in the room were appreciative of my words and that I could create an enjoyable narrative. This was the inspiration for me to seek to write my own novel. While it took a few years longer than anticipated, I published my first book Cross in 2015. Receiving a congratulatory email from Dr. Delotto was an unexpected surprise.
What advice would you give current education students and new teachers as they embark on their teaching journey?
Find your own mentor. There are many incredible teachers that are willing to help guide you through the opening years of your career. I was blessed to have several informal mentors who taught me the things that were unique to my campus. Dr. Carlos Martinez served as my mentor during student teaching, and I still remember his advice on connecting with students shared over lunch. My mentors gave advice and allowed me to discover how to be successful on my own.
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