Kentridge alumnus makes the grade

Mike Geisen, 35, said he doesn’t remember all the academic details he learned as a Kentridge High School student, but he does remember the teachers there who inspired in him a passion for learning.

  • Monday, June 2, 2008 1:46pm
  • News

Kentridge High School alum Mike Geisen

Chosen as National Teacher of the Year

Mike Geisen, 35, said he doesn’t remember all the academic details he learned as a Kentridge High School student, but he does remember the teachers there who inspired in him a passion for learning.

Besides one teacher Geisen said regularly fell asleep in class, he looks back fondly on the educators at his alma mater. He said they are among the ones he has to thank for his current success and his new title, National Teacher of the Year.

“Most of my memories of high school are not specific things I learned, but memories of how teachers interacted with me,” he said. “Many of my teachers were really passionate about what they did. They encouraged curiosity and were always seeking ways to get us excited about learning.”

Geisen has now taken pages from the books of his best teachers and become one of them. The Kentridge Class of 1991 graduate was recently named the top teacher in the country by President Bush for his work teaching seventh-grade science at Crook County Middle School in Prineville, Ore.

“Things are just crazy right now, but it’s been an amazing, exciting time,” he said just days after returning from his trip to Washington, D.C., to receive the award. “What an honor, not only just for me but just as much (Crook County Middle School) because it really reflects on them creating an environment that I could flourish in.”

Geisen was named Oregon State Teacher of the Year in October 2007. The seven-year educator traveled to the nation’s capital with a group of other state teachers of the year last weekend, officially being given the top award during his visit. After a personal visit with Bush in the Oval Office, an award-presentation ceremony in the White House Rose Garden and a black-tie dinner in his honor, Geisen said he’s feeling a bit overwhelmed.

“It was kind of surreal,” he said. “All of this for little old me from little old Prineville.”

But Geisen said the trip was exciting, and he even hit it off with the president on a personal level, calling him a “charming host.”

“My students were all excited, like, ‘This hand shook the president’s hand. We should cut it off and sell it on eBay,” Geisen said. “It was of course a huge honor, but he’s just a normal guy. It kind of reminded me that we’re all just human.”

Now a seven-year educator, Geisen didn’t always aspire to be a teacher. After graduating from Kentridge, he went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in forest management at University of Washington. He worked for several years in the field before realizing he needed a change.

“I needed something where I was a little more interactive with people and something that I could be more passionate about,” Geisen said in a previous interview with the Reporter. “I needed my job to be something more involved with giving back to people.”

He earned his Master’s in education at Southern Oregon University, and he’s been teaching at Crook County ever since.

Geisen attributed his recognition to the fact that he doesn’t teach inside the box. He said he’s developed a teaching style that he thinks inspires student creativity, using humor, games, music and movement to help them internalize their learning.

“I really try and find creative ways to reach kids, because I know that most kids don’t learn in traditional ways anymore,” he said. “Reading text books and doing worksheets doesn’t really help kids internalize their learning.”

His hope is that teachers begin to instill what he called 21st century skills in students, including thinking creatively and working collaboratively.

“We need to find a balance between the analytical side of the brain and the creative side of the brain,” he said. “Right now, I think it’s pretty lopsided.”

Part of Geisen’s role as National Teacher of the Year is a year-long leave of absence starting at the end of this school year. He already has more than 150 speaking engagements scheduled, including a two-week trip to Japan, in order to spread his educational message.

For more information about Geisen and his award, visit the Crook County School District Web site, www.crookcounty.k12.or.us.

Contact Daniel Mooney at 253-437-6012 or dmooney@reporternewspapers.com.

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