September 23, 2011 12:00AM
Although the May 22 tornado in Joplin destroyed what would have been his classroom at the Joplin School District's East Middle School, it didn't deter Brandon Teel from interviewing for a teaching job two months later - or the district from hiring him.
In fact, said East Middle principal James "Bud" Sexson, he already knew from Teel's reputation that he wanted Teel as his next technology education teacher. Before graduating from Pittsburg State University in May 2011, Teel had made such an impression as a student teacher that he was awarded the College of Education's Teacher of Promise award, and was even recognized at the state level.
"I really wanted to rebuild the technology education program," said Sexson, a former industrial arts teacher himself. "And knowing (Teel) was a product of PSU, I knew he could do great things."
It was Teel's ability to hit the ground running that Sexson needed most. After a summer of high-speed construction that transformed facilities not built to be schools into educationally friendly environments, Teel and the other East Middle School teachers walked into their new building a week before school began. Because his classes revolve around using technology and hands-on projects to ingrain concepts into the minds of students, his empty classroom put Teel in panic mode.
"You know the kinds of activities you'd like to do with kids, but unless you have the equipment, it's like, 'What am I going to do?'" said Teel. Not knowing how he'd pull a technology education class together without technology, he called his former professors Mike Neden and Andy Klenke at PSU.
Their reaction was swift. Within 24 hours, the two had secured more than $12,000 in donations from multiple technology education companies for Teel's classroom. Pittsburg companies Pitsco and Depco each donated approximately $5,000 in robotics kits and software, as well as tools, equipment and supplies. Goodhart-Wheelcox donated $2,300 in new technology education textbooks (something the school had never had), and K'nex Co. donated $1,000 worth of building kits. Teel's classes will be able to videoconference with the technology education lab at PSU so that university students can communicate and work with middle school students. And more donations for Teel's classes are still on the way.
For Neden and Klenke, whose visionary work with school districts is leading to more integration of technology into traditional curriculums, helping out was a no-brainer.
"Your first teaching job is a challenge for any teacher," Neden said. "But more so for a new teacher in this situation with a program that depends on materials, equipment and tools. He didn't even have to ask for our help - we already knew what he needed."
Neden and Klenke's progressive work with school districts - they've communicated with the state Department of Education about how technology can make students in any academic area better learners - may help not only Teel's program, but the entire Joplin School District. As they work to create a vision for their new high school, Joplin Superintendent C.J. Huff and a team of principals and teachers will visit Pittsburg State University this Friday to meet with Neden and Klenke about technology in the classroom. The group will tour Pittsburg High School, where the PSU professors have worked for years with faculty and the district to build a model technology education lab, before returning to the tech education labs at PSU for a tour and lunch.
Having the opportunity to work with Joplin Schools while administrators envision a more progressive role for technology in the classroom is great, said Neden. But so is the old-fashioned value of supporting alumni when they need it most.
"What they've done is a testament to PSU's commitment not only to students, but alumni," Teel said. "They have a genuine love for the work and care for their students, and it has meant the world."