Alex Conyers, West High School

By January 5, 2021 Uncategorized

Position: Science teacher / Science department head

Years Teaching: 9 years

Hobbies/Interests: Card and Board Games, Host Pub Trivia and Open Mic Comedy Nights (used to?), Graphic Design

What do you enjoy most about teaching? The fast pace and constant problem solving. I enjoy the performance aspect of teaching as well. You can be silly and vulnerable for young people and they appreciate it in a way that adults no longer do. I enjoy the challenge of constantly learning alongside my students it certainly makes me a much more dynamic individual. As a teacher I have the opportunity to make a huge impact. The combined potential of all the students I’ve taught is staggering. I hope that I have given them the skills to seek truth in a world of increasing confusion and inspired some to tackle the existential crises that we face.

What do you find most challenging about teaching? There is never enough time to do that job. It isn’t something you ever complete. Every teacher has to prioritize some work and compromise on something else. At any point in the day a teacher can ask themselves “is there some work I should be doing?” and there is always some initiative to implement, paper to grade, lesson plan to submit, email to respond to, letter of recommendation to draft, or (in my case) glassware to clean.

Best tip for new teachers: Seek out these things: 1. Continuous learning opportunities during the summer and ways to involve yourself in the school. 2. A group of teachers that challenge you to improve your instruction. (Look inside and outside your department. It may come from continuous learning opportunities too.) 3. A wealth of diverse resources from different sources and educational philosophies until you find a model and instructional resources that work for you. Then critically examine the pile each year and find the gold or polish what you have into it.

Best tip for career teachers: I’m hesitant to act like I could teach other “career teachers” as their advice and mentoring is what carried me to this point in my career. So instead I’ll provide two things that I try to stay vigilant of in my classroom.

1. This is my classroom but the instruction is not for me. It doesn’t matter what I think should be successful, easy, fun, etc. the bottom line is how the student feels about the instruction. If you can inspire students to take some ownership of their learning by providing them with choice and worthwhile tasks you will see them exceed your expectations. Nothing that “works” works for every student every time. Students are much more likely to fall outside your expectations when the sandbox you present is shipping box sized.

2. For a few years I avoided group presentations because the students were terrible at them. Later I realized my philosophy was backwards. I think a lot of teachers operate under a misguided view that if students in their classroom never experience discomfort, or confusion, if their curriculum moves students effortlessly from point A to B then they have a model classroom. It was later in my career that I realized students deserve to feel discomfort both socially and academically, they need to witness something tried and failed, and they need more opportunities to practice the things at which they are the worst. Vary your instruction to keep the kids guessing and curious about what class will look like today. Lean into the things they are worst at rather than avoiding them. Responsible push students towards roles and activities that cause them discomfort.

Favorite piece of advice for students: I’ve struggled to put it in a friendlier way but what I’d like to communicate to students (and sometimes colleagues) is that their lack of preparation is not my crisis. This is not to say that I don’t procrastinate too, but procrastination among my students it is the bane of my professional life. As teachers we work hard to plan ahead and give students assignments with ample time to complete them. Our intention is that they will do the assignment in pieces spread out over multiple days, not in a flurry two hours before midnight the day it is due. So please don’t complain about, or expect me to save you from your lack of sleep, “all-nighters”, and high level of stress. You signed up for all that when you disregarded the first piece of advice.

What being a Gold Star Teacher means to you: I love my job, my students, and my school. From personal observation I know that not many people can say that about their careers. So in a lot of ways I am rewarded everyday of my life. That being said it is nice to receive this recognition because teaching certainly involves a lot of long hours, hard work, and personal sacrifice. The success I’ve experienced wouldn’t have been possible without the sacrifices my wife has had to support my career. I’ve also benefited from a lot of great mentoring through teachers past and present, my undergrad work at UNI, and the RET program at ISU. It is an honor to win this award for my families at both East and West High School in Waterloo. So many of the teachers, administrators, and staff have shown me overwhelming care and support throughout my career.

Watch Alex’s video here!