A handful of Hobbton High School students had the opportunity this past week to pick the brain of one of the state’s leaders in education.
As part of Teach for America Week (March 3-14), Eric Guckian, senior education advisor to the governor, visited a biology class taught by Taylor Bickford, one of the two Teach for America corp members teaching at Hobbton High and one of the eight teaching with Sampson County Schools.
Teach for America Week is an annual event where a variety of leaders and community members, including executives, elected officials, athletes, musicians, actors, heads of state, authors, and activists, offer to teach a guest lesson in the classroom of a Teach for America teacher who, as a corp member of the organization, has committed to teach for two years in socio-economic challenged communities in order to expand education opportunities and help in the effort to give all students an equally excellent education.
Last Wednesday, Bickford turned her biology class over to Guckian who talked with her students about success and what some of the big issues are in education today.
Guckian asked students to share where they thought they might be in 10 years. Some students saw themselves opening a business while others didn’t yet know where their path in life might lead.
Regardless of whether they had their life all planned out or not, Guckian encouraged students to focus on the skills they will need in life in order to be successful, no matter what they ultimately decided to pursue.
The students listed a high school diploma, social skills, and independent skills as ones they thought they would need as they leave high school and enter either college or the workforce.
“I agree,” said Guckian. “Social skills, knowing how to communicate with people well, is probably one of the top three skills.”
It’s something, Guckian pointed out, that is essential for his job, describing how, when working with the governor, “the first thing I’ve got to do is read his mood” in order to know how best assist him.
“You’re always learning about how to deal with people,” he added.
Honing in on one student’s point that independent skills are needed in life, Guckian also urged the class to be independent thinkers.
“People are always trying to convince me that the government should support this or that. There’s always people trying to sell me something,” he noted, stressing that it’s important for him to be thoughtful and discerning in his position and keep his focus on what’s best for the state’s education system.
The ability to work in teams, added Guckian, is also an important skill, one that can easily be honed in high school.
“You have to understand yourself and your skills but also your weaknesses,” he explained, adding that it’s also a benefit to be able to recognize others’ strengths. “Those collaborative skills are incredibly important.”
Lastly, as students form their own notions of success, Guckian asked that they consider their reputations.
“Nothing is more important than your reputation,” he said, pointing out that the people who know a person’s reputation the best are often family.
“You need to think about how important it is to have the reputation that you need and want not just professionally but also personally,” advised Guckian, mentioning that his wife and two daughters are the ones who know him best and that he considers them in the decisions he makes because he desires to have a good reputation both at work and at home.
When Guckian opened the floor for questions, students inquired as to his life and what his job with the governor entails.
He shared that his father was a plumber and his mother was a respiratory therapist, and that he was the first in his family to go to college. Hailing from Rhode Island, he received his bachelor’s degree from Colgate University and earned his Master’s degree in Education from Harvard. He had been a Teach for America corp member, teaching in New York’s south Bronx area near Yankee Stadium, and later served as a Teach for America director. He also had previously worked in Charlotte with New Leaders which works to train principals. Since May 2013 he has served as the governor’s senior education advisor, a position he was appointed to by Gov. Pat McCrory.
“I give the governor advice on how to make schools better,” he explained, telling students that if they had any suggestions he would take them back the governor.
Guckian also gave students examples of some of the many educational issues he deals with on a daily basis, including “how do we reward teachers,” “how do we measure teacher effectiveness,” and “how do we pay teachers more.”
“Our state, over the last ten years, has really under-invested in teachers,” he told the class, acknowledging that “too many (teachers) are leaving the profession due to teacher pay.
“Some say there should be more computers in the classroom…most of the time it comes down to where the money is needed,” he continued, explaining to students that the legislature will soon begin its short session in May. “I think we’re going to put our biggest investment this session into teacher salaries.”
Before leaving, Guckian took a photo with the class and Bickford and expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to visit one of Sampson County’s schools as part of Teach for America.
“Teach for America provides outstanding results,” he said. “It’s an important part of getting good teachers in the classrooms and working with students who, regardless of the school system, have the right to an excellent education.”
“It’s been an honor to be here at Hobbton High School. It’s been incredibly welcoming, especially from Ms. Bickford and her students. You’ve got a great community here and we look forward to supporting the teachers here.”
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.