This week I sat down with Seth Brady, one of the 12 Illinois Teacher of the Year finalists. Disclaimer: Yes, Seth is my son, the same son I bragged about here, on FaceBook, Twitter, Google+, and any other place that came to mind.
“All you need is one teacher that cares about you and can deliver a comment that resonates with your soul.”
She can undo almost any negative comment and totally change a student’s perception of himself. A Parent’s love is important, of course, but often it takes someone outside the family, someone who recognizes a child’s unique genius, to cement a confident belief in himself. For Seth Brady, 2014 Illinois Teacher of the Year finalist, one of those teachers is Mrs. Fryzel who tenaciously pointed out his gifts. Her ability to see his talents was like magic.
“Teachers are like seed-scatters, they don’t always know what becomes of the seeds,” but the seeds take root and grow throughout an individual’s life.
Brady earned two masters degrees (Kinesiology at University of Illinois, and Social Sciences at University of Chicago,) and began his anthropology career at a research firm before he pursued teaching.
Having come from a job as a social science researcher, a 9-5 desk job, the first thing he realized is the boundary between work and the rest of life becomes much more fluid. Not only the teacher-specific tasks and responsibilities, but outside of school life involves looking at the world in a way that makes sense inside the classroom. Things in the media, observations in a shopping mall, a trip with the family: all become seeds to engage students and recognized as potential ways to apply concepts. The honing of his craft becomes more of a vocation than a job:
It’s the“type of work that keeps calling you, and you end up with a unique attention to the world.”
Brady knows teachers in technical fields that describe the same phenomena. For example a household chore like tiling a floor becomes a way to engage students in a geometry lesson.
Brady thought about teaching while still studying for his undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Philosophy. He just needed to sort out where and what. At first he wanted to be a professor, but he soon realized the skills and sensibilities he wanted to teach, really belonged at the high school level, when students are really forming their perspectives and being exposed to different world views and peoples.
In 2013 Brady received the “Teachers for Global Classroom Fellowship,” which enabled him to teach in Indonesia for three weeks. A math teacher who also received the honor came back from Indonesia and initiated a set of lesson plans that compares caloric intakes of different diets as part of students’ math projects. Teachers that want to bring kids into the passion of their discipline do those kinds of things. If the student’s unique genius lies in that area, she will be prompted to explore it.
Brady left Indonesia with an epiphany:
“What we need as a nation is students who are given that sense of acceptance and tolerance at an early age. We need global collaboration, but more than that we need a skill set that will lead to a greater sense of prosperity for all the world’s people.”
Brady calls this skill set Global Intelligence (GQ)– a flexible set of skills that allow a person to access deep cultural values while at the same time bridging the inevitable gaps that emerge between cultures and between people. GQ is the measurement of a student’s global competence or global versatility. To that end, Brady proposes an Illinois Global Scholars Program that compliments the existing STEM program by awarding student achievement in a wide range of disciplines including the arts, social science, world languages, environmental sciences, and communication arts. (For the specific components of his proposal, visit Brady’s website, “Curious Central.”)
Brady spent his early years in Bad Axe, Michigan, a farming community, before moving to a white-collar suburb of Chicago. The shift in cultural identity during his formative years may be the seed that planted an awareness of diversity of peoples, perspectives, and identities.
A creative cook for his wife and three children, Brady concedes that he wanted to be a chef when he was a little boy. He had his own cooking set and cookbook, and often prepared a mini-version alongside his mother. Brady says”
“Teaching is a bit like being a chef. You do more than just follow the recipe, you must take things in with all of your senses, and improvise. There’s a science to it and an art to it. You get an immediate sense of satisfaction on a daily basis. Chef’s makes delicious and nourishing dishes that fill the senses and satisfy. Teaching enriches lives and turns on students’ bliss. Sometimes you get to witness how you’ve nourished a soul. Just like a chef cannot experience what a diner sees, tastes, and smells, if you are lucky, a teacher get a glimpse of the joy a student has. But you never truly own it; it belongs to the student. You’ve given something, but it’s not yours.”
It’s difficult advice to give, but Brady really thinks people should try to make the thing that they love their job.
“ Try to find your unique genius. I had good jobs, jobs that I liked, that were comfortable and afforded me a good living, but not quite my bliss. It’s tough and it’s risky to switch out of something that provides stability. Listen to yourself. Be your own divining stick. You can tell when you are on track, off track, and almost on track. Keep driving after what you really love to do, work at it diligently and the stars will align.”
Brady is humbled to be a finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year. “There are so many good teachers out there.”
The winner will be announced October 25. In the meantime, Brady continues to shine light on his Illinois Global Scholars Program. It’s Brady’s way of equipping high school graduates with the Global Intelligence they need to succeed in our future.
Feel free to leave a comment and share on social media. If you have any ideas or klout for ways to spread Seth's message, please pass them along. He has an essay about Global Intelligence polished and ready for a home.