WASHINGTON, D.C. — Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year Derek Olson may have traveled here to meet the president this week, but he didn’t completely leave the classroom.
Olson, who teaches sixth-grade social studies at Afton-Lakeland Elementary School in Stillwater, has been updating his students online with daily observations and even quizzes from his trip to the nation’s capital, where he and other top teachers from around the country are being honored.
“A couple of interesting notes,” Olson wrote to his students on Tuesday:
“–The president has really big hands,
–Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, is really tall,
–So is Michelle Obama,
–There were no roses in the Rose Garden, just lots of tulips.”
This interaction is specifically why Olson (or Mr. O, as they call him back in Stillwater) has gained such a following — that and his memorable unit on ancient Egypt in which he sets up an archeological dig for students.
“I would have to say that he is my favorite social studies teacher,” said Trent Jancze, 12, one of his students.
“He is actually really good at explaining things, and you never get lost in his class,” said Allison Raddatz, 11.
Another student, Julia Amaral, 11, said that before she had Olson as a teacher, she only liked social studies a little bit because it was just “taking notes and taking tests and reading textbooks and boring old stuff.”
Olson, however, made her see that history “could be fun and exciting and that it just depends on the way that it is taught,” she said.
MinnPost caught up with Olson during his whirlwind tour today at Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s weekly Minnesota Morning event (a meet-and-greet where the state’s only senator serves up coffee and Minnesota delicacies like potica while mingling with visiting constituents).
“My goal is to make learning come alive. My goal is to spark passion,” said Olson in Klobuchar’s packed office this morning where the eclectic group included students from a Minnesota charter school, a couple of particle physicists, and a Samoyed named Tasha, who belonged to a St. Paul resident.
Later, as Olson reflected on meeting Arne Duncan, the new secretary of education, he waxed a bit more serious about the state of education in the United States.
“I was excited about the fact that Arne Duncan told us that they were going to be traveling around the country, recognizing that they need to get the best and the brightest into education,” said Olson.
“I think the emphasis that teaching is a noble and worthy profession is something that unfortunately has not been seen in our culture. When I was working to become a teacher, I had people say, ‘Why teach? You could do so much more.’ That perception needs to change, and I believe that this administration realizes that.”