Until last week, Kelly High School science teacher Aaron Reedy was unknown outside of his school to all but a handful of colleagues and science geeks. Then it was announced that he would be presenting at the world-famous TED Talks 2012 in March, along with celebrity educators like Bill Nye and Rafe Esquith. See previous comments here. Below he tells us a little more about himself, his rise to Internet fame, and his views on hot education issues. Like many real live teachers, he's neither totally gung-ho for every reform idea out there nor wholly insistent on defending each and every feature of the existing system:
Everyone's asking -- single or taken?
AR: I'm happily married to my wife Sarah who is also a CPS teacher (Lane Tech).
How did you get the TED gig -- where were you when you got word?
AR: TED held an open online search for The Classroom session at TED2012. I submitted an idea along with the video of my TEDxSMU talk and they picked me along with 9 other people.
What's your favorite TED segment and do you think TED is over-rated?
AR: I am a fan of TED talks. I really love a talk that Mike Rowe (host of Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel) gave about attitudes towards working and blue collar professions. The guy is my public speaking hero. He is such a consummate story teller and has such a laid back demeanor, but his enthusiasm for the stories still really comes through.
What's the reaction been so far from kids and colleagues?
AR: It depends on if they have ever heard of TED. If they have heard of TED they seem pretty excited. If they haven’t, they are kind of wondering what’s the big deal? Most of my kids think that its cool that my picture is in the same row with Bill Nye the science guy on the TED website.
How did you end up at Kelly, and how long have you been there?
AR: I came back to Chicago after three years in the Peace Corps (Vanuatu), got my teaching certificate and found myself looking for a job mid-year. Only a couple of places had openings, I interviewed at Kelly and liked the place right away.
What's a typical day like for you?
AR: It’s so hard to call any day typical in teaching. This morning in biology I was teaching about the human reproductive system and answering lots of sincere questions, in zoology it was doing animal behavioral experiments with Giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches,and in the afternoon it was building earthquake proof buildings with the earth science classes.
What's your opinion on big CPS issues like the length of the school day, tenure, charters, and school turnarounds?
AR: Length of the school day- Given the huge amount of behind the scenes work, it’s hard to imagine packing anymore teaching into my day. If the teachers aren’t given any increase in pay for longer teaching hours, it will feel like we are not valued.
Tenure- I see a need for it in some form. However, a few years ago when we were going through another round of doomsday budget scenarios, it was upsetting to know that my name was on the initial list of positions to be cut because I had very low seniority. Thankfully that doomsday scenario never played out.
Charters and School Turnarounds- I just don’t really get it. I guess I understand firing the principal if the board is not happy with the leadership, but I do not understand firing an entire staff and starting over. Personally, I would never reapply for my old job back if I was let go in a school closing/turnaround. I find that idea completely insulting.
There's no annual testing requirement for science -- good thing, or bad?
AR: Well at the high school level we have the PSAE and the ACT in the junior year, PLAN is in the sophomore year, and EXPLORE is in the freshman year. Those all have science scores. Our school is definitely concerned with these test scores, but our administration at Kelly makes it clear that the test scores are not the ultimate goal of an education.
Is the science curriculum for CPS as uneven and discombobulated as I hear?
AR: I really only have experience with the curriculum at Kelly. Our subject area teams are fairly well coordinated so we are teaching the same important stuff while giving teachers the freedom to do it in a way that resonates with them and captures the interest of the students.
Is it getting any harder to get kids to want to hands-on, real-world labs or projects because of all the technology?
AR: No way. When you put a live lizard, or a turtle or a giant cockroach into a kid’s hands, you completely have their undivided attention. I think that because kids (and the rest of us too) are living much of their lives partially distracted by technology, when you present them with the opportunity to interact with the natural world and do science, they are totally taken off guard by how engaging it can be.