Teacher of the Year: David Magee

“Let them pack their own snack, choose a time to set their alarm or pick out their own clothes the night before. Giving a second-grader responsibility helps supply them with a positive sense of control.”

Second-Grade Teacher at Horace Mann Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Nominated by Jen Dryer:

“David Magee works incredibly hard to not just provide the opportunities and inspiration for children to grow academically, but also socially and emotionally. He thinks deeply about the whole child, and works to help children in this important emotional year begin to understand themselves as learners. David also helps his students learn how to advocate for themselves in how they best learn. To help destigmatize learning differences, he provides ‘Tier 1’ interventions for all children, like offering any child a set of noise cancelling headphones to help maintain focus during individual work time. David really knows his students as people, as learners and as citizens of his classroom and the school. He sets high expectations and helps students better understand themselves. This is not something I’ve seen many teachers do, and it’s incredibly powerful for children at this age and stage in their lives.”

Q&A with David Magee

What originally got you interested in teaching?

After college, I spent time exploring professions in healthcare and consulting. While I enjoyed the collegiality and the challenges that come with these environments, I never felt like my full suite of skills were being employed. I had this gnawing feeling that I could, and should, be doing more with myself. I wanted to find my calling, and spoke to my family and friends. Much to my shock, people kept saying the same thing, “You would be an amazing teacher!” As soon as that idea was introduced, I knew I had found my path.  

Why do you think teachers are important?

Everyone remembers their teachers in great detail, don’t they? We can still hear their voices in our minds from time to time, their specific praise or discreet criticism, their jokes or sincere advice, their empathy and tough love. It was those moments that changed us the most, because it was those moments where we felt known and cared for. Teachers are guides who prepare children for a world that they are beginning to discover. In this capacity, we can change how people view themselves relative to their world.

What is the single best piece of advice you can give parents of second-graders?  

Children start to struggle and push back when they feel acted upon, so I try to make every choice theirs. In tough situations, I offer two positive choices and let the child decide between those: “Do you want to clean up before your snack or after?” In the same vein, allow your child some autonomy by offering your student opportunities to make small, but important choices every day. Let them pack their own snack, choose a time to set their alarm or pick out their own clothes the night before. Giving a second-grader responsibility helps supply them with a positive sense of control.

Heading into this new school year, what are you most excited for?

I love the moment when our students come up with and vote on our class names. Last year, we were the “Helpful Potato Bugs,” and before that, we were the “Red Eared Sliders.” Our students also come up with a new name for the tarantula, which is our class pet. Last year, she was “Octavia,” and before that, the kids voted to call her “You know who … .”  

Do you have any tried and trusted ideas or activities for motivating students?

At the start of the year, we create collage self-portraits after reading Todd Parr’s book, “It’s Okay to Be Different.” During this time, the students start to celebrate what makes them unique and special, while appreciating the differences that we all bring to the classroom. This activity is a perfect way to do guided discovery of our materials. At the end of the project, we use the students’ faces to decorate our classroom!

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