Teacher Spotlight: A Talk with Jay Maebori

Posted by Britni Danielle


This post is in partnership with University of Phoenix

Jay Maebori gave up his dream career of being a sports journalist to be a teacher more than a decade ago and hasn’t looked back. He is the 2011 Washington State Teacher of the Year and teaches high school English just outside of Seattle. Maebori teaches “blended” classes, leading honors, English Language Learners, and intervention students through a rigorous Language Arts curriculum.

GOOD: How long have you been teaching and what type of students do you serve?

Jay Maebori: I am starting my eleventh year and I teach at Kentwood High School, a suburban Seattle High School. It’s not the most diverse school in the world, but we’re moving more and more towards that.

I teach blended classes, which is a mix of honors kids and core kids all in the same classroom. So if you do it right you differentiate for every learner in the classroom, which can be really difficult, especially with big class sizes.

GOOD: How do you motivate students who haven’t been successful in the past?

Maebori: Motivation has always been something that I thought about a lot. If a student is motivated, they’ll do almost anything. And if they’re not, it really doesn’t matter if they can or can’t do it—they need to try. Building a class culture where effort is valued, where we’re building character all the time, and where we’re trying to get stronger and better is important. Having them see the bigger picture of why school is important and how they can apply it elsewhere is key.

GOOD: As your school becomes more diverse, how do you make your content culturally relevant?

Maebori: When I first started to get my credential, we read an article about a “Colorblind Curriculum” and we had this long discussion about whether we should try to treat all kids the same, or really try to play up the fact that people come from so many different cultures. We went back and forth about it, but I felt like if we celebrated the differences, then [the students] could bring something different to the table. That’s what I try to do from day one: allow every kid to feel like where they come from culturally is going to enhance what we do in a daily basis.

GOOD: How do you balance making sure your students are prepared for standardized tests with still being creative?

Maebori: That’s tough because I do feel I want the scores to reflect that I was effective with them, and that’s a good measurement. But it’s a little disconcerting that it becomes the only measurement. Kids could have made personal growth and could have done a lot of things that are non-measurable, and yet teachers don’t really get credit or recognition for having done that with certain kids.

You have to just focus on the skills that will get them ready for the test, but trying to find ways to demonstrate those skills within the context of other things is really helpful.

GOOD: How do you incorporate technology into your class?

Maebori: As often as possible. The kids know more about technology than I do in some cases, so I try to let them teach me. I try to give them options in how they can demonstrate their learning. If I tell them they have to make a PowerPoint, it’s very limiting. Letting go and allowing kids to explore technology makes them feel really empowered.

GOOD: In your opinion, what’s the biggest misconception about teachers?

Maebori: That test scores are the end all, be all measure of what a teacher can do. There are so many ways that a teacher can be effective. The public looks at scores and hears things in Newsweek like, 'United States Performing Behind Foreign Counterparts,' and they get worried. They think it’s because of lack of teacher effort. And there are some teachers in every building who do not belong in the classroom anymore, but I don’t think the general public sees the effort that most teachers put in. They just see the scores. There are so many other factors, but so much of it rests on the shoulders of the teacher.

GOOD: What advice would you give to new teachers?

Maebori: Being patient with yourself early on is really important. I was impatient with myself; I wanted to be great right away. I found myself disappointed a lot because I was struggling. But I think struggling is a part of the process. If you don’t struggle, you don’t get better. New teachers shouldn’t be afraid of struggle, they should actually embrace it because through struggle comes improvement.

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Read more from the GOOD Guide to Great Teaching here.