Patrick O'Conner began a second career in teaching after serving 10 years in the United States Army as a linguist in various locations around the country and the globe. Upon completion of military service, he received a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master's Degree in education from Armstrong State University, during which time he worked in both landscaping and hospice care. Mr. O'Conner is now a teacher at New Hampstead High School in the same school system he attended as a student. He teaches United States History and Advanced Placement United States History during the day, as well as teaching Economics, World History, and United States Government for the Twilight after school program.
One of his favorite lessons was a lesson he taught his Advanced Placement United States History class near the end of last year. After spending the year presenting various topics to them, Mr. O'Conner turned the tables and gave everyone in the class responsibility for planning, teaching, and assessing a lesson of their own. He divided the Cold War and had each student teach a topic related to this subject. The students created the test, and then taught the lesson. He also took the test, but only answered the questions correctly if he could refer to the correct information in their lesson. The lesson gave students a sense of ownership over the content and deepened their understanding of the lesson.
Mr. O'Conner is involved in summer school and the school's after-school credit-recovery plan known as Twilight. He teaches all of the students taking social studies classes. In addition to instruction in course content, Mr. O'Conner placed an emphasis on discipline and so-called soft skills. He tries to show students that 90% of what they communicate to others about themselves is communicated non-verbally. They don't tell people who they are but rather show them in how they carry themselves. In addition to helping many at-risk students graduate on schedule, he helps students learn the importance of being respectful, well-spoken, kind, trustworthy, and reliable.
Mr. O'Conner tries to connect both the content and student presentation of course content to the world around them. As he teaches United States History, Mr. O'Conner tries to help the students see that in the past as well as the present, people grasped with a world in which change is a constant, whether the topic is talking about changes in transportation, communication, demographics, or technology. Most issues, no matter how seemingly remote from the students' lives, can be connected to and are relevant to their day-to-day experience.
Mr. O'Conner's message for teachers and students is that we need to put passion and purpose into our classrooms. When students see that something is important to us, it will become important to them. Things that are unimportant to you become unimportant to your students. Whether it is the content of the subject we are teaching, class and school rules, or anything else, students pick up on the teacher's cues concerning what is a priority and what isn't. Enthusiasm is contagious.