From Teacher to Curriculum Specialist: 8 Questions with Glenn Wiebe

8 QUESTIONS is a series of interviews with teachers who have effectively transitioned their classroom skills into new and exciting careers in the field of education. We at believe that teaching is a rigorous and diverse classroom in and of itself; the skills learned “in the trenches” can translate into an exciting portfolio of professional options. From education tech to consulting, the only “X factor” is where you want to go — our interviews hope to shine a light on the steps it takes to get there.

1. What’s your name, location and current career path?

Glenn Wiebe, Hutchinson, Kansas.

I work for ESSDACK, an educational service center that consults with K-16 academic organizations around the United States and overseas. My primary focus is helping social studies teachers find ways to improve student learning. I also spend a lot of time with schools as they integrate technology into instruction. The title on my business card is Curriculum and Technology Integration Specialist but I’m really just a guy who gets the chance to spend a lot of time with classroom teachers.

2. Where did you earn your teaching certification, and where did you go to school?

I earned degrees in political science and English at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas and a MA in American History from Wichita State University.

3. How long were you a teacher for?

I spent nine years in a suburb south of Wichita, Kansas at Derby Middle School teaching US History and Reading to 8th graders. I then had the chance to work at my alma mater in the social science department teaching general education and upper level classes to college students.

4. What was the most rewarding part of being a classroom teacher? What about classroom teaching did you find most challenging?

Working with middle school students remains one of my most enjoyable experiences. There was never a dull moment! I really never knew day to day what sort of classroom atmosphere would develop and so there was always the constant opportunity of having to adapt the learning activities. The upside to a 13 year old is amazing — there are so many opportunities for growth! I enjoyed watching my 8th graders improve and change over the nine months I had the chance to work with them.

I think one of the biggest challenges any classroom teacher experiences is finding time to do everything in a quality way. There are just so many expectations placed on teachers that it can be difficult prioritizing what has to be done and when it will get accomplished. I still remember my first teaching year. In addition to my class load, I volunteered (or was volunteered!) to sponsor and coach a variety of extracurricular activities. I would often get home after 8:00, fall asleep on my couch, wake up at 10:30, and then try planning the next day. It was a constant struggle squeezing the important stuff into 24 hours every day.

I get the opportunity to team teach occasionally with social studies teachers and am in my wife’s class often enough to know that this continues to be a challenge for many educators.

5. Why did you decide to transition from classroom teaching to your current career?

Early on in my time teaching middle school, I remember thinking that much of what I was taught in my education classes just didn’t seem to be that useful. I became a better middle school teacher over time, not because of my formal training, but because of excellent mentors. Some of the best in-service learning happened for me through informal conversations and practice.

My experience in higher education followed a similar path. There were few professional learning opportunities that focused on best practice and, intentionally or otherwise, the culture seemed focused on isolating teachers from each other.

And so I begin look for a place that supported continuous learning and collaboration between educational professionals. But the decision to leave the classroom for consulting was a gradual process rather than a sudden break. I was lucky to find a place at ESSDACK — there truly is a culture here that encourages continual improvement and finding ways to work together with teachers.

6. What is the best part of being a consultant?

Completely honest and selfish answer? My first thought was that my schedule is flexible enough that I have more than 20 minutes for lunch and can take restroom breaks any time I want.

As an ESSDACK specialist, I do have a lot of flexibility but the best part of what I do is collaborating and spending time with classroom teachers. I love sitting with a bunch of middle school history teachers and chatting about what works best to improve learning. We share web sites, tools, and resources while breaking down what strategies work and which ones don’t. There truly is nothing more fun that watching a teacher get excited about what they do, knowing that teacher is going to integrate our conversation into a lesson tomorrow with kids. That is just so cool!

7. What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel in your current profession?

I’m not sure if this is an actual skill but perhaps the biggest thing I brought with me from the classroom is the realization that there is never just one way to do things. Every kid, every class, every school year was different. A lesson that worked last year may need tweaking to fit this year’s group of kids. New resources become available. Brain research suggests a different strategy. And so I needed to always be adapting my instruction and finding ways to upgrade what I did.

An early conversation with a mentor focused on the concept of Kaizen — the idea of small, every day, continuous improvements. We expect our students to get better every day. And we should expect the same for ourselves. That idea still makes sense and it’s one I try to share with the educators I work with.

A more specific and practical skill is writing everything down — back in the day, I learned to make all sorts of lists. Of course, it seemed like I lost most of them! Today, I don’t need to keep track of paper and pencil lists. Using tools like Google Keep and Apple Notes lets me access my stuff no matter where I am.

8. What advice would you offer a current teacher who is looking to make a career change to outside of the classroom?

Be aggressively friendly both in person and online. Use LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest — whatever works best for you — to find ways to connect with as many people as possible. I still believe that the bigger your network, the more opportunities you have. Ask lots of people lots of questions.

Expand your skill set. Be willing to go back to “school” — that might mean a formal face to face or online college setting. That might be participating in one of the many web-based sessions or short classes available online. It might even be an iTunes U course.

Glenn Wiebe’s passion for social studies was kindled in elementary school when he fell in love with his first National Geographic map. Even at a young age, Glenn was beginning to understand what Robert Louis Stevenson meant when he described his treasure map as having the “power of infinite, eloquent suggestion.”

Glenn writes at History Tech, a 2014 Edublog finalist, and maintains Social Studies Central, a repository of resources targeted at K-12 educators. Starting in 2013, Glenn acted as co-chair for the Kansas social standards writing and assessment committee and is currently president of the Kansas Council for the Social Studies. He travels across the country as an ESSDACK education specialist providing keynotes, presentations, and curriculum development. You can follow him on Twitter at @glennw98.

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