Along with two other teachers, Mr. Wertheim was honored at this year's SUPA Summer Institute Welcome Breakfast at the Sheraton Syracuse University, 801 University Avenue, Syracuse, NY on June 25, 2012. "These teachers exemplify the skills, qualities, and accomplishments that truly define a Teacher of the Year," says SUPA Director Dr. Gerald Edmonds. "Namely, a commitment to innovative and effective real-world learning strategies; a determination to prepare students to be successful, engaged student citizens in high school, college, and beyond; and a demonstrated passion for teaching. SUPA is grateful for the opportunity to showcase these talented and dedicated teachers."
In their nomination packets, each of the teachers outlined the innovative strategies they use to elicit debate and free inquiry in their classrooms, to deepen students’ knowledge of a topic, and to connect classroom lessons to students’ own experiences. One strategy that stood out was Wertheim’s “Coffee House Project.”
“I saw a similar technique being used at New York University,” recalls Wertheim. “In my version, I set up a room like a coffee house and bring in coffee and donuts. People chuckle about the artifice of the setting, but it creates a safe space to get discussion going.”
Wertheim has students volunteer to chat about a sociology topic with their peers, and, like the NYU version, he invites other teachers and administrators to eavesdrop. “Students discuss sociology issues such as identity, race, and class. Our textbook is a starting point, but it’s very much a Socratic dialog, and I allow students to make connections between the topics and their experiences.” At a certain point, the conversation is opened up to the “eavesdroppers,” and the discussion widens, giving students a chance to debate in a highly intellectual setting. That sounds like pressure, but the students warm to it, says Wertheim, maturing as they do.
What qualities should a Teacher of the Year have? Should he or she be memorable, or well-liked, or have students who regularly achieve outstanding test scores? Certainly, all these are necessary to be an effective teacher. However a Teacher of the Year needs something extra, and there is no doubt that Mr. Wertheim has all of those characteristics. “It’s so easy to take great teachers for granted,” says SUPA Associate Director John Fiset. “They can make what they do seem so effortless because they have committed endless hours to perfecting their craft. As students, we’ve all had truly outstanding teachers, and in each case they live with us for the rest of our lives. How fortunate we are to be able to recognize these excellent professionals.”