Maggie Costa nominated Matt Weinheimer for Class Acts. Costa said Weinheimer has a solemn commitment to teaching, a rare talent for guiding students to achieve high goals no matter what the obstacles may be and a track record for making education relevant, entertaining and thought-provoking. Weinheimer is a teacher students trust and deeply respect, Costa added.
• Name: Matthew Weinheimer
• Age: 50
• City of residence: Riverbank
• Occupation: Sixth-grade multiple subject teacher at Empire Elementary School
• Education background: Modesto Junior College; California State University, Fresno; Chapman University
• Teaching experience: 13 years, four years with Visalia Unified and nine years with Empire Union School District
Why did you get into teaching? I am unable to recall one specific teacher's name or grade that changed me, redirected my focus and thoughts and motivated me to become something more than average. I wanted to have the opportunity to be that teacher for my students each and every day.
What is your favorite part about being a teacher? Having real-life, meaningful and enlightening conversations with my students. No matter their educational history, successes or failures, I love having the responsibility of seeing that they remember sixth grade as a major turning point in their lives.
What is the most challenging part of your job? Capturing the attention of every student in the classroom every day, multiple times a day with material that we all know can be dry and dull.
What is the most important lesson you've learned? That the students need, crave and respond to firmness, fairness and respect from their teacher. And if you do not have the ability to be flexible, choose another career.
What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? My Promethean Active Board and Active Expressions. These have literally transformed my classroom and provided me even more motivation to bring curriculum to life in half the time. I am able to share the world, literally, with a group of young people that may have never traveled out of California. And these kids have grown up with technology. It is a perfect fit.
What's next in your classroom? At Empire Elementary K-8, each grade level has chosen a level of higher education to share with and to inspire children to focus on an ever-changing future. My colleague and I have adopted California State University, Fresno. We have speakers coming to class, walls dedicated to college, researching college Web sites, and creating PowerPoints on colleges and careers. With several of our students, college seems out of reach or impossible, or they simply don't know about it. We want to change that thought process at an early age.
What advice do you have for students? Your opinion counts. We want to hear what you have to say, and when you know how to express yourself correctly and respectfully, people of all ages will listen to you. Be grateful you are offered and given a free education. There are many children in the world that would love to trade places with you.
What advice do you have for parents? You are truly the teacher. We can only be successful in the classroom if you are in the loop on a consistent basis. Know your child's teacher's expectations and support them. Do not make excuses for your kids. Allow them to be accountable, even if painful.
What will it take to improve academic success in the valley? We need those who make decisions that affect the classroom to have come from the classroom themselves. Our elected officials are often out of touch with what is really happening inside the walls of the classroom yet make decisions with a mentality of one size fits all. Parental involvement, parental involvement and parental involvement. Without them, it is an uphill battle at best.
How do you to reach students not interested in school? I come right out and ask them in a safe and honest forum. When they have had the opportunity to share, be heard, and their feelings/reasons justified, it is amazing how their tone changes and their interest improves. They don't have to love school, just recognize the benefits of school.
What one area should schools put more emphasis on? Allow schools (pre-high school) to provide as part of the curriculum the opportunity to prepare students for the real world, i.e. social skills, being respectful, coping skills, goal setting and exploring vocational interests on a yearlong basis, not just as an elective. Making parental involvement a requirement.
If you could change one thing about the current educational system, what would it be and why? Change our grading procedures for schools. Progress is a good thing. We should all strive for success and progress toward a set goal. When a school misses that mark of success by a percentage point, are they a failure? To punish or threaten to punish schools for low test scores means we are too caught up in test scores.
What would surprise people about your job? The general public has no idea just how much (most) teachers care about their students. Teachers I work with and friends who are teachers take pride in what they do and take time to find new ways to do it each and every year. We take a genuine interest in our students and become protective of them and are often their biggest supporters. We did not become teachers to become wealthy. Those who are on the high end have put in 20, 25, 30 or more years. That's choice. That's love of kids, someone else's kids.
What are your future plans? I'm playing golf this weekend.