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"Leading From the Heart" speakers share experiences in classroom challenges and success

Julie Travis and Ryan Malany pose for photo that promotes

Julie Travis and Ryan Malany pose for photo that promotes "Leading from the Heart" (ONU/Communications and Marketing)

Students and faculty congregated in the Dicke Forum on Tuesday night to hear about a topic of mutual interest:  education. “Leading from the Heart” featured two lecturers, both recent ONU education graduates.  They related in vivid color their careers as teachers, letting classroom examples give prospective graduates a sense of what awaits them. 

The first speaker was Julie (Herendeen) Travis, a woman whose first teaching position was in a middle school in Nashville, Tennessee named Jerre Baxter.  While teaching middle-schoolers might not be the first choice of some, Travis explained that it was her calling.  She made this revelation during her first student teaching assignment when she watched a middle-schooler told to silently read “put the book in his lap, and put his head down on the desk, and then spend five minutes trying to get his fist into his mouth.” 

While such a story is certainly funny, the challenges of teaching in an urban school are in no respect amusing.  Travis described her first year teaching at Jerre Baxter as “the hardest year of my life,” adding that "my idealism and grit were tested day in and day out.” Travis emphasized the need for programs to give prospective teachers urban experience because “Allen County does not prepare you for that.”  Teaching in a district where crime and poverty are extremely high is a constant challenge. 

Travis recounted hearing the news that two of her former eight-grade students were being indicted for murder.  Such a shock made her question all that she had done as a teacher.  Yet, she had to keep doing her job to the best of her ability, reminding herself that many of the factors she faced were out of her control.  At the end of the day, “kida are kids, regardless of where they come from and what they’re up against,” said Travis.  She needed to focus on the task at hand - the humanity of the children she taught - rather than being overwhelmed by what she was up against. 

This type of attitude was likely what made Travis such a successful teacher.  100 percent of her students scored proficient or advanced in Reading and Language Arts on the state standardized test. 

The next speaker came from an altogether different environment.  After graduating from ONU in 2005, Ryan Malany began teaching in the Kenton school district and is now a principal in the Arcanum-Butler school district in west-central Ohio.  

Malany’s approach to teaching is also about making a strong impact on students.  Bringing education to life seems to be his specialty.  With his contagious enthusiasm, Malany uses the hands-on approach to make his classroom successful.  For example, when trying to get his class to remember the difference between battles in the Persian Wars, Malany took his class to the auditorium to act it out.  Using carefully cast roles and some beanie babies as weapons, students became viscerally aware of why certain events in history happened the way they did. 

Another one of Malany’s activities did not go quite as well— a slew of parents called the superintendent and principal when an attempt to mimic the hunger situation in Africa was taken a little too seriously by one student.  This goes to show that exciting forms of teaching are by nature experimental, and are never risk-free.

Still, Malany swears by the philosophical question posed by Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a PIRATE, which is, “If your students didn’t have to attend your class…would you be teaching to an empty classroom?”

Though their teaching environments may be very different from each other, Julie Travis and Ryan Malany have one important thing in common:  they try to make a difference in the lives of their pupils.  Whether their goal is to make a memorable lesson plan or build a classroom up to a proficient level, their passion for teaching is what makes the largest impact. 

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