With Owen at the helm, students strive to excel and explore
With a cheerful “Good morning!” Will Owen greets each student in his 4th-grade class as they sit down. As soon as they are settled, he does something he calls “stretching,” which entails lessons like pre-reading and observation, to ready their minds for learning. Then they are off, delving into worlds of history, science and—Owen’s personal favorite—math.
“Will is a great teacher because he’s always so happy and ready to teach us,” said 9-year-old Sydney Ambers, one of his students. “He also makes us feel proud of ourselves for working hard.”
But teaching wasn’t always on Owen’s mind. After a friend explained the difference it made in his life, Owen, who had just finished college, couldn’t get the notion out of his head.
“I would go to bed at night and I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about all these great things I could do teaching,” he said. “It was a career choice that fit my personality.”
In 2004, Owen left his home state of Michigan and joined the non-
profit Teach for America, which focuses on getting teachers into underserved schools. His first day in a classroom, at the School of Leadership Development, C.I.S 313, in the Bronx, coincidently fell on his 23rd birthday. Owen stayed there for three years, teaching 6th-grade math before he transferred to P.S. 40 to run a 3rd-grade class. Now, he teachers 4th grade, “an amazing grade,” he said. Students and parents think so too—especially with Owen at the helm.
“His genuine love and concern really shines through all aspects of his teaching,” said parent Jill Hing. “I see my son blossoming in ways I don’t even think he is aware of.”
Although Owen says teaching didn’t come naturally at first, he studied other educators and read books until he gained the confidence to run a classroom.
“I think we [his class] have a really good relationship,” he said. “It’s about making it exciting and digging into the subjects. Also, I make sure the content of the lesson can be related to their lives and their worlds.”
One program that pushes students to succeed is his “Top Dog” theme, which started at the beginning of the year and entailed studying famous people, like Louis Braille, Harriet Tubman and the Wright Brothers. Inspired by these historical accomplishments, students would work hard to be named “Top Dog of the Week.” The chosen student was highlighted and received praise from classmates about his or her achievements.
“Featuring one student as a Top Dog each week keeps our focus on working hard and treating each other respectfully,” he said. “It’s amazing how the kids search for and find genuine reasons for their classmate being featured.”
This motivational tactic seems to reflect Owen’s approach to teaching as a whole.
“He respects his students’ intellect, but also remembers that they are children and they need positive reinforcement to thrive,” said Sydney’s mother, Jesse Ambers. “But, most importantly, I think that the students know that he is on their side.”
4th grade, P.S. 40