Bob Crongeyer is a great teacher, as confirmed by his recent selection as Sacramento County Teacher of the Year.
But he's not just teaching the kids in his class at Taylor Street School in the Robla School District. Crongeyer, 49, is also passionate about inspiring teachers through his work as a co- director of the Writing Project for Area 3, a network of California teachers and administrators sharing successful ways to teach writing.
Crongeyer, in the Robla school district for 24 years, teaches gifted and talented third- through sixth-graders.
Crongeyer is sharing the county's Teacher of the Year award with Jennifer Ellerman of the Sacramento City Unified School District's California Middle School.
Crongeyer and Ellerman are now being considered for California Teacher of the Year, which is awarded to five educators statewide. One California teacher moves on to be considered for National Teacher of the Year.
What is the Writing Project?
It is built on the philosophy that teachers are the best teachers of teachers. It began at Berkeley about 30 years ago. There are Writing Projects throughout the United States. The heart and soul of what we do are summer institutes. We call on the top teachers, kindergarten through college, and spend the summer together doing a ton of writing ourselves, studying writing best practices and other issues such as equity and gender, and then participants give a demonstration about a practice that has worked for them in the classroom.
Why is the summer institute important?
It's a life-changing experience. I'm not exaggerating. It's rejuvenating and exhausting. I've heard more than one person say it saved their career.
The summer institutes are by invitation only. Does the Writing Project have anything similar that is open to all teachers?
One of the biggest things we do is Super Saturdays. It's free professional development for teachers in the region. There are grade-specific workshops teachers can attend. Anyone who is a teacher, student teacher or administrator can attend as long as they RSVP ahead of time. They are free but fill up quickly.
What are your thoughts on the new state curriculum standards called Common Core Standards? Will they improve instruction?
The Common Core Standards don't tell us how to teach; they tell us what to teach. That's huge. It's up to us to find the best way to teach the students we are working with. This gives us the freedom to tailor instruction based on the students in each class.
What do you specifically like about the Common Core Standards?
There is less isolation in subject matter. It will be cross-curricular. We are writing and reading in all subject areas. It's so much more interwoven. There is a lot of analysis and critical thinking.
You seem genuinely excited about Common Core. Why?
If you look at this as one more thing in education we're being told to do, it might be time to get out. If you look at it as finally being given the opportunity to be practitioners of the art of teaching, then you are in the right profession. It is exciting. It's not just one more thing. I've been fortunate that I've been teaching this way for years. When I went into the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program, I didn't have the same curricular constraints, and I had to learn to be creative again.
If you are chosen to be California Teacher of the Year, you will be tasked with representing the profession. So, what are your views on the statewide hot-button issue of teacher evaluations?
If we look at just how our students score on standardized tests, that is not a valid view. I've had years where students were living under a bridge, who watched their parents being murdered, students who didn't know where their next meal was coming from, and I had to teach them about verbs. Did they score well on standardized tests? No. Did they learn? Were they thinking? Did they feel, at least while they were at school, that they were a part of a community? Yes.
Student achievement is part of the picture, but not all. You have to look at how dedicated a teacher is, whether they are willing to improve. It's subjective. That's the fear. How do you do this without it being subjective?
What has been the highlight of the past 24 years you've been teaching?
There are so many. Recently, it's been the students who came back and said I made a difference in their lives. It sounds cliché, but it moves you in a way you don't expect. I had a student come back a few weeks ago and said he was getting his teaching credential because of me. I had another student who sent me a letter when she graduated from UC Davis and thanked me for making a difference in her life.