“What determines a great teacher is so subjective, because you need to look at the needs of the students. A great teacher must respond to their student based on that student’s needs.”
Lynne Kesselman is the winner of the 2008 American Star of Teaching Award, a prestigious accolade awarded to just one teacher from each state per year. She teaches in the Egg Harbor Township School District high school in New Jersey, where she has been teaching for eleven years. She teaches Computer Technology courses, multiple levels of Web Design classes, other business-related courses, and conducts seminars and lessons in web technology for her fellow faculty.
On Becoming a Teacher
Lynne Kesselman became a teacher through alternative route certification after 18 years in the investment industry. Her degree from Stockton College was in business, but she didn’t let that stop her from becoming certified as a teacher when she realized that was what she wanted to do. Many teachers nowadays are becoming certified through alternative means, and Lynne’s journey represents that of countless individuals who change careers at some point in their lives because of an unshakable inspiration to teach.
After stepping back from the investment arena, Lynne decided to take an active role in her children’s education. Having always had a passion for education, Lynne decided to become a substitute teacher. She substituted for about a year in different schools, becoming exposed to a wide array of students until she decided teaching was what she wanted to do.
Lynne went through the Alternate Route Certification Program to prepare her to teach full time. “We were getting a lot of teachers with real world experience--experts coming in to teach our students. That was almost unheard of at that point in time, and that’s when I decided I’d go through the alternate route. I have a degree in business, so I became certified in business-related classes like Business Education and Marketing. I found that it worked really well for me. Our school district has been very supportive of alternatively certified teachers, and they’ve hired quite a few.”
After that, she took about a year off from taking classes, but found that she missed it. So, Lynne then began graduate work and completed a Master of Arts in Instructional Technology in May 2005 from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. "I found it to be an invaluable experience and through my graduate work, I was immediately gaining enhanced teaching techniques, great technological skills, insight from instructors and fellow graduate students, and developing exciting curricular projects. This experience not only benefited me, but also my students, departmental colleagues, and through curriculum committees and professional development sessions, eventually impacted faculty members throughout the school district and beyond. Even though getting the MAIT was a lot of hard work, I really enjoyed the courses."
“What determines a great teacher is so subjective, because you need to look at the needs of the students. A great teacher must respond to their student based on that student’s needs.” Lynne’s philosophy of teaching is one of communication and interaction, of working with them for their education. Teachers who follow students beyond the classroom are the ones who have the most impact on their students. “In my opinion it’s always about the students. It’s never really about the teacher, it’s about what the teacher can get out of the students.”
Lynne’s students work very actively with each other to practice different concepts of web design and editing, and the lines of communication between her and the students are always open. She encourages her students to take responsibility for their grades and actions. “A student who’s not passing my class has never said it's because you didn't teach me what I needed, they will always say, ‘I know I'm not passing the class. I just didn't work hard enough.’ As long as you don't feel like a failure that a student didn't pass, you end up feeling like it’s a success because they've been able to learn to look at what they didn't do right.” Fortunately, most of those students are eventually seen back in the computer lab on their own time, working really hard to get the job done.
On Technology in the Classroom
Teaching technology-based courses changes the dynamics of technology in the classroom. Whereas some teachers shy away from the Internet, Lynne cannot because it is such an important part of what she teaches. In this day and age, students become so acquainted with technology at such a young age, and while many people find that to be a distraction, Lynne finds it to be enriching. “The kids are so much more talented and technologically capable than they ever were before. They don’t feel that they necessarily need to learn something; they just have to learn how to find it.”
When it comes to teaching technology courses, Lynne continues her approach of interacting with the students in crafting an engaging curriculum. “I take what they've done in the first class and I look at the things that they find exciting. When we start out, we have everybody work on the same thing, and then in advanced classes, we can customize and expand on what we have them do based on what they respond to. I have to keep my skills up-to-date through my various professional development courses so I can keep up with the students and continue to update my curriculum.”
When Lynne receives new technology she has her students learn how to use it first, and then she assigns students to teach teachers throughout the school how to use that same technology. Through this role reversal she is able to increase her students level of ownership over her course content and ensure her colleagues are knowledgeable about the newest technology and software.
On Impacting Students
“I was in the store the other day and I saw one of my former students who graduated two or three years ago. He was telling me about how much he loved my class, and how now he’s at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. I've gotten letters and e-mails from lots of other students.” Lynne’s active and communicative approach to teaching has clearly impacted her students, many of whom take her Web Design class as an elective, and are going into the course with a passion for or interest in the subject.
Lynne also works with students on Independent Studies, a relatively new course option in her department at her school. Students work individually with her while they complete an intense project they create for themselves for their senior year. She’s worked with many students over the last few years on their independent projects. “All my students who do independent study take their work home with them and come back with these gorgeous projects. I don’t have to solicit students to do an independent study any more; they just come to me because they’re interested.”