Sheryl Silva nominated Vincent Eisman for Class Acts. Silva said that Eisman is energetic and vivacious and follows the state recommended curriculum while promoting learning by exploration. Eisman also has devoted many hours to teaching students and parents the Japanese board game Go. He has formed a club at the school as well as hosting monthly meetings for anyone interested in playing the game. I have never meet a teacher so devoted. Eisman genuinely cares about the kids and is focused on making a difference.
Name: Vincent Eisman
Age: 38, I think.
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Occupation: Fourth-grade teacher at Fair Oaks Elementary
Family: Wife, Lisa, and daughter, Sophie
Background: I graduated from a continuation high school, received a bachelor's in history at Chico State, did graduate studies in Greco-Roman history at the University of Nottingham and earned my teaching credential through an internship program in Los Angeles.
Teaching experience: Two years substitute teaching K-12, one year at a community college teaching Greco-Roman history, five years teaching in inner-city Los Angeles and four years at Fair Oaks. I served as a Teach for America and UCLA Center X Program for Social Justice master teacher.
Why did you get into teaching? I discovered how incredibly joyous learning is quite late in life. I was in a community college history course and the world opened up to me: literature, art, music, philosophy, science, politics, religion, world cultures. It seemed there was nothing in life that was not interesting. I had to share this new excitement with someone. To figure out where I belonged, I taught as a substitute by day and college at night. The choice was obvious, kids are a blast and they're still curious.
What is your favorite thing about being a teacher? I get to know a lot of kids and their parents and we explore. A group of kids and I have the whole world before us. If they have questions and wonderings, I get to guide them on their discovery. Sometimes by fourth grade they've already had the curiosity knocked out of them. Then I get to help reestablish a sense of wonder in them.
What is the most challenging part of your job? Keeping myself and 30 other people organized; it may never happen.
Favorite teaching tool or activity in the classroom: The game of Go. Go is a 4,000 year-old strategy game from Asia. One begins with an empty grid and places stones on the board, building territory through the game. Whereas chess is a game of attrition, Go is a game of balance that draws on both intuition and critical thinking. The game has tremendous classroom and life applications that I'm just beginning to tap into. Teachers can receive a free introductory kit for their classroom at www.usgo.org/agf/index.html.
What's next in your classroom? A simulated archaeological excavation of a Chumash burial site and family Go night. We're also having a field trip to study salmon migration just before Thanksgiving break.
Advice for new teachers: I remind myself all the time that teaching is ultimately about relationships. We have to trust our students and parents in order to help them trust us. I think if we are all willing to take more risks on an interpersonal level, the partnerships between school, home and community will be amazing. You can see evidence of this in videos at www.edutopia.org, George Lucas' education foundation. Be sure to subscribe to the beautiful free magazine while you're there.
Advice for students: Live life. Ask lots of questions and explore everything you can. Beg your parents to take you to museums. Get a musical instrument into your hands. Life is a journey, take all the interesting paths. Learn to play Go:http://homepages.gac.edu/~wolfe/fts/2005F/interactive/English.
Advice for parents: Lead your kids in exploration. Even if you have limited experience yourself, just dive in! Explore music, art, culture, weird food. Step out of your comfort zone and watch your children thrive. If your kids have lost the joy of discovery, or if their appetite for learning is insatiable, watch this highly amusing, very informative and ultimately challenging video at www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/66.
Future plans: We have a team of students who will compete in a national online Go tournament in February. Some ideas I've been playing with include having the kids use free software to compose, write and record their own podcasts, music, and radio documentaries. In the spring, I want to incorporate African drumming and folk tales in a dramatic performance.
How do you to reach students not interested in school? I'm excited about learning. I try to expose them to whatever I can and I make sure I'm passionate about it. I challenge them to ask questions. I strive to provide them with relevance. I teach them to bang a drum in rhythm with other people. I teach them to play Go and respect their opponent. I reassure them that most of the world's successes began with failed attempts, so they have no reason to fear taking risks.
What would surprise people about your job? It can never be mastered. It is an eternal and wholly worthy challenge, however.
What did you do on your summer vacation? Sat under the maple tree on the terrace of my new house and read almost enough books to be content.
COMPILED BY JILLIAN HANKS, BEE NEWSROOM ASSISTANT