By: Michael Bonner
Last week, ACT hosted our Distinguished Lecture Series, which focused on exceptional educators who are reaching underserved students in extraordinary ways. Michael Bonner was one of our guest speakers. Read on and be inspired.
You do some pretty creative things to inspire your students and get them excited about learning. What inspires you?
To be honest, the creativity and passion in my classroom comes from multiple sources, but can be summed up in one premise. As an educator, we want our children to learn and be knowledgeable of the world that is around them. But with that desire, we should ask ourselves, “Why do want our children to learn?” Where I come from and the type of children I serve, there is a high need for unbiased passionate educators who are willing to push past the status quo. Students in poverty and unfortunate situations can learn, but it takes consistency and dedication to push through the wall of dysfunction that surrounds their heart. Because I am aware of this ideology, I had to zone in on two fundamental facts about my educational philosophy. First, I focused on building solid relationships with each student within my classroom. Without a healthy teacher-student relationship that is grounded in love, how can one design a dynamic lesson that infuses knowledge into their brains? Secondly, I used the knowledge that I gained from those relationships and I started incorporating engaging tools such as money, music, projects, etc. It was not easy, but it proved to be an effective strategy as my students started to grow more both academically and socially.
What’s the best part about working at South Greenville Elementary School?
The best part about working at South Greenville Elementary is that each year I have the opportunity to watch a rose grow through concrete. There are data points that suggest systematic injustices that are firmly rooted in American history. I serve in a school that is populated by African Americans who are a minority in today’s society. Because I am aware of the current research on poverty and achievement tests in regards to African American students, I have the chance to help a child beat those statistics. A chance to help my students become global leaders and break the generational cycle of poverty that is hindering so many. When I take that data and infuse it into my educational philosophy, I add extra sunlight and nutrients to the process of educational photosynthesis.
You’ve had a whirlwind few months since your first visit with Ellen. She said that teachers like you should get the big attention. We agree! What’s the biggest impact the attention of being on The Ellen Show has had on your classroom and your school?
Before I answer this question, I want to say that Ellen DeGeneres is as sweet in person as she is on television. She and the Ellen DeGeneres team were an amazing group of people and showed so much love towards me and my students. We received a lot of amazing things since we appeared on the show. From flat screen T.V.’s, iPad mini’s, Beats headphones, drones, monetary donations, and dedicated individuals who have volunteered at our school. The staff and students of South Greenville Elementary are beyond grateful for the generous donations. But most importantly, the show provided something that money and gifts could not provide. That is: motivation. As educators, we often preach to our students the importance of working hard and how it will pay off eventually. Students are often frustrated with that message because there is not a time stamp on when the reward for all of their hard work will appear. Our video going viral and the positive attention we received from all around the world reinforced the message of working hard and has made a tremendous impact on the students at our school. Now, our students understand how important it is to aggressively approach their education and to always strive for their best because you never know when it will finally pay off.
Michael Bonner is a second grade teacher at South Greenville Elementary School in Greenville, NC, working hard every day to make a profound impact on his students with his vision to teach them to become productive global citizens. Michael was honored in early 2017 by Ellen DeGeneres in recognition of his positive and innovative approaches to education for children struggling with the challenges of poverty.