“Education, in my opinion, is the great equalizer,” says Kelli Etheredge. “My parents didn’t have college degrees, but my mom encouraged my dreams of college and beyond. I went to college and on to law school. After I practiced law for five years and found it dissatisfying, I knew that I had options because of my education. I wasn’t stuck in a career I didn’t like. I could find my passion because I had the educational background to open up many doors.”
Yet if you ask Etheredge what she’d most like to change about education in the US, she’s quick to answer. “This overall characterization and stereotype of all teachers and all schools as being boring and inept,” says Etheredge. “It’s simply wrong. The other day my kids were watching the Disney Channel, and the teacher on the show couldn’t spell. Not only were the students treating the teacher as if he were inept, the teacher was acting like, ‘you know I’m stupid…I’m a teacher.’ The concept that those who do, ‘do’, those who don’t, ‘teach’, is just wrong. I know at my school, every one of us is well qualified for what we’re doing. We really love kids. We really want them to flourish and grow.”
One look at Etheredge’s class, and it’s clear that she is no stereotype. In fact, her students are breaking boundaries. Her classes win awards. She won first place for Knowledge Building and Critical Thinking at the 2011 Microsoft Global Forum for her project, “What’s the Verdict? The Count of Monte Cristo Murder Trial” in which her tenth grade World Literature students put character Edmond Dantès on trial after reading The Count of Monte Cristo. They used a shared Microsoft OneNote notebook, Office Web Apps and Windows Live SkyDrive to share information, collaborate and prepare for their criminal trial. In fact, OneNote has become so integral to her students’ learning, if she could, she’d give it (plus a laptop) to every high-school student in America.
How can we change the ingrained, negative perceptions of education and educator? “We have to reconsider the notion of traditional education,” she says. “We need to abandon the traditions that simply don’t work and reject what doesn’t suit our students.” Specifically, Etheredge detests the tradition of students sitting in one room for one subject, being talked to by a teacher for 50 minutes, and then moving to another room when the bell rings. “We need to create environments that are fluid, that don’t force you to stop when you are in the middle of something intense. We don’t live in boxes, so why are we training our students to learn in boxes? Life is not compartmentalized. Changing these traditions is crucial to changing how learning is perceived.”
Daily Edventures readers: how have you broken traditions in your school? Have you changed perceptions of education or educators?
About Kelli Etheredge
Teaching and Learning Resource Director, St. Paul’s Episcopal School, Mobile, Alabama, USA 2011 US Forum Winner of Knowledge Building and Critical Thinking. Kelli Etheredge organizes professional development opportunities and supporting PK-12 teachers in effective integration of technology and innovative lesson design. She is also a trained peer coaching facilitator through the PeerEd group. Additionally, Kelli teaches World Literature at the 10th grade level and is one of the Mentor teachers.
Birthplace: Chattanooga, Tennessee
Current residence: Mobile, Alabama
Education: BS from Auburn University and JD from Cumberland School of Law
Website I check every day: Twitter.
Person who inspires me most: My kids inspire me the most because I love seeing the world through their eyes, rather than my adult “filters.” They all see the world in a very different way, and they show me a part of myself. They inspire me to be my best – try new things, open my heart, believe in myself, cut myself some slack every now and again… the list goes on and on.
Favorite childhood memory: Running on the track team. My track coach, Joseph Brown, was also the teacher who most influenced me. When I met him he was sixty years old and had experienced so much – the death of both parents by 18, segregation, a horrible car accident that left him convalescing for a year. He taught me so much more than how to run the hurdles; he taught me about life. The biggest lesson – life is what you make it, not what you are given. He was an amazing man.
Favorite book: Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
Favorite music: Cake