Wyoming Education Association

Spring 2019

Issue link: https://digital.copcomm.com/i/1095286

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Page 25 of 31

Member Spotlight 23 Excellence in Teaching is Excellence in Learning By Elise Robillard In January 2019, WEA member Chris Bessonette, his colleagues, and students were surprised when it was announced at a school assembly that Chris won the prestigious Milken Educator Award. Often referred to as the "Oscar of Teaching" this award recognizes early and mid-career teachers for their excellence and accomplishments. The award comes with a $25,000 individual, unrestricted prize funded by the Milken Family Foundation. When asked about this experience, Chris shares that he was completely caught off guard and he had no idea that this award even existed, much less that he had been selected as an awardee. He and his wife plan to use the award money to travel with their son and to further their passion for experiencing new cultures and places. Chris has had a winding road to becoming a public school teacher. Originally from Oregon, he started working in education when he accepted a position at a boarding school in Austria in 1998. Later, when he returned to Oregon, he decided to combine his love of the outdoors with his desire to teach. This led him to the opportunity to lead one week sessions with 6th graders on fi eld science excursions. He enjoyed working in an outdoor setting and sharing natural science with students, so he eventually accepted a position in Yosemite National Park teaching natural history, ecology, and science standards through hands- on learning to rotating groups of students of all ages. This position eventually brought Chris and his wife to Wyoming, where he worked for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Lander for fi ve years teaching backpacking, rock climbing, and leadership skills. Eager to travel and teach, he accepted a teaching position in Germany at the Dresden International School teaching fi rst grade. He found this teaching assignment both fun and exciting. He loved working with students from all over the world. In fact, in his two years there, he only had one student who was a native English speaker. He met his future wife and they decided to return to the United States to raise their family in the American West. This led him back to Wyoming where he taught kindergarten through second grade for three years with Teton Science Schools at the Journey School. For the past eight years, he has worked for Teton County SD #1 in Jackson Hole. He started as a traditional kindergarten teacher, and then joined the dual immersion program where he taught kindergarten for six years and now second grade for two years. Chris has grappled with understanding why he, among all his accomplished and dedicated peers, would be recognized with the Milken Educator Award. He says he sees heroic teaching all around him, and so he is humbled by this impressive honor. Yet, he believes that his connection with Patrick Menyak at the University of Wyoming, and their work on a research project studying vocabulary acquisition in collaboration with the 2nd grade teaching team at Munger Mountain Elementary may be part of the reason he received the Milken Educator Award. This project brought research- based practices to his and his teammates' teaching, including pre- and post-assessments to measure student growth. Chris has led this project and its impact on students' learning has been amazing. More than the monetary prize, Chris is grateful that his dedication to his students and their learning has been recognized. Munger Mountain Elementary, where Chris teaches 2nd grade, uses a dual-language immersion program. All students speak and learn in both Spanish and English. He hopes that this award will highlight, and allow him to promote, the importance of dual-immersion language programs. Teaching in this environment has reinforced his commitment to learning about world cultures, promoting intercultural understanding, and elevating minority students who, like their peers, aspire to accomplish great things with their lives. Chris Bessonette exemplifi es great teaching – we congratulate him for his award and we thank him for his dedication.

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