Wilson Arnold has a mission: he'll do whatever it takes to motivate kids so they can pass the Washington state science assessment. Want proof? He kissed a pig, shaved his head and threw pizza parties to inspire students to excel in his science class.
When he arrived at Neah Bay High School in Northwest Washington nine years ago, not one of the students passed the assessment. So Arnold started to offer incentives throughout the year to help students achieve their potential. His unconventional teaching style earned him a three-page spread in People magazine, which used his story to launch its first Teacher of the Year contest.
This national exposure came on the heels of a national environmental science competition sponsored by Samsung in which Neah Bay finished in the top 12 among more than 1,500 entries. The school was awarded $70,000 in technology equipment for its cleanup project on Tatoosh Island. Students determined the most effective way to make use of mushrooms to clean up diesel contamination in soil. Arnold is thrilled with the attention the school receives.
"The system of expectations we have been working on for many years is finally being recognized by organizations outside of our town," he says. "By years three and four of my career, we had a pretty good idea that our model was going to bring success, we just needed to convince everyone else that there would be significant gains. I don't think anyone had any idea we would experience this type of publicity."
After graduating with his Seattle University master's degree, Arnold and his wife Robin, a 2005 SU school psychology graduate, returned to Neah Bay High School on the Makah Indian Reservation where he grew up. At this school of just 170 students where he taught science, she was a counselor.
Arnold, his wife, their infant son and toddler daughter made a move in fall 2012 to Everett, Wash., where he now teaches robotics and science classes at Gateway Middle School. He sees this as a great opportunity to grow consumers into creators of technology. He won't say if he'll be kissing any pigs or shaving his head anytime soon, although he hasn't ruled it out.
Arnold credits SU for preparing him for a successful teaching career.
"SU was the primary reason I was prepared for the rigors of our profession. The fact that the program was an intense full-time, eight-hour-a-day 'job' with homework, really gave me a sense of what it is like to be a starting teacher," he says. "SU's focus on current research and practice allowed me to walk into a classroom feeling confident from day one of my career."
SU was the primary reason I was prepared for the rigors of our profession.