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Student Now the Teacher—and a Good One at That

St. Louis Park High School's Greg Goddard is a candidate for Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

More than 20 years after being a student at himself, Greg Goddard is continuing to make the school proud.

The AP psychology and social studies teacher, who has been teaching at the high school since 1991, was named one of 111 Minnesota Teacher of the Year candidates earlier this month by Education Minnesota. Goddard was nominated by LeeAnn Stephens, who currently works with Goddard at the high school but won the Teacher of the Year award in 2006 while working at .

After semifinalists and finalists are announced over the next few weeks, this year's honoree will be named on May 6.

Goddard sat down recently with St. Louis Park Patch to discuss his reaction to being nominated, how he first got into teaching, and what he likes about being in the classroom:

St. Louis Park Patch: What was your initial reaction to being nominated?

Greg Goddard: I was very honored and still am very honored, and humbled. I was surprised, because I do believe there are a lot of excellent teachers here. I kind of feel as though I’m representing everybody. I just happened to be the one who was picked.

St. Louis Park Patch: How and why did you first get into teaching?

Goddard: I wasn’t certain when I went to college (what I’d study). I had always been interested in the social sciences. I was working toward an undergrad degree in psychology, and part of my degree required that I do an internship in the field. I happened to do that at a junior high in Edina. I worked in a learning center that worked with students with learning differences, as well as emotional and behavioral disorders. I just found that I really connected with the adolescents. It kind of piqued my interest. At that point, my thought was to go on and get a degree in psych and go into counseling. The fact that I was making these connections with these adolescents really made me think, “Wow, maybe this would be a possible option.” So, I got my undergrad degree in psychology, and then I decided I would pursue getting a graduate degree in education. I went on to the University of St. Thomas and got my master's in education there. Soon after that I got a job at Rosemount High School. I taught there for two years before coming to Park.

St. Louis Park Patch: What do you like most about teaching?

Goddard: I think No. 1 for me, and I think it’s essential to being a good teacher, is you’ve got to have a desire to be around youngsters—and feel as though you can make a connection. That relationship is really essential to being able to teach, and provide them with direction. I mean direction beyond just the content—they’re learning many things when they come to high school. There are social things, emotional things ... I think that relationship is critical, and that’s what I think I felt that first time I was in that junior high. It was, “OK, there’s some wavelength here. I feel that I’m getting something back, and I can see they’re getting something back, too.”

St. Louis Park Patch: What's your philosophy in the classroom?

Goddard: I think it begins with that relationship I mentioned. I think it also is essential to have a realization that students come with many different demands on them. They come with certain levels of motivation ... Sometimes, they aren’t aware of what they’re capable of—sometimes they can underestimate themselves. So, making them aware that they are capable of more, that maybe they can push themselves a little bit further, (is important) … I (also) think showing an authenticity, being real, is important ...  Once you kind of build that mutual respect, I think that’s when you can really make inroads.

St. Louis Park Patch: There must be days, though, where you want to rip your hair out. How do you deal with that?

Goddard: I think you need to realize those days, or moments, happen ... A lot of times, you just have to be patient, and accept the fact that there are going to be those times when you’re going to have difficulties making inroads with some students. Or you’re going to feel frustrated. Or you’re going to feel blocked. I have another colleague that says, in many regards, we’re kind of like fishermen casting a net. Your hope is that you can get as many in that net as possible. And you do what you can to get them in the net, and buy in and push themselves. But in reality, you’re not going to catch them all. Then you need to rely on your colleagues to cast their nets and maybe catch the ones you don’t. We’re all in this together. (It's important) to know that maybe the spark will light up in another content area or with another teacher—and to not take that personally.

St. Louis Park Patch: Do your students know you’ve been nominated? If so, what have their reactions been like?

Goddard: LeeAnn has kind of made it known to them (laughing). I don’t know if all of them do, but I’ve had some come up and congratulate me ... I think they’re happy to hear it.

St. Louis Park Patch: Do they take credit for it?

Goddard: (Laughing) I don’t know if they take credit for it. I think they’re happy to see someone from St. Louis Park recognized. And again, I don’t think it’s just me—it’s a recognition I accept for the whole school. Many students here are very proud of the fact they go to school here. They really are.

St. Louis Park Patch: Do you have a favorite memory or two from your years at St. Louis Park High School, or something you're most proud of?

Goddard: I would say that part of what I’m proud of is, after having gone to school here, continuing the legacy of an excellent education. I had a couple of mentor teachers who I was fortunate enough that once I graduated and came back and worked here, they were kind of the ones I looked to as models of what a good teacher was. I feel very lucky to have had that opportunity ... They were highly popular when I was in high school, but I was able to maintain a relationship with them. That was probably instrumental in me getting a job here. They continue to be, in my mind, the prototype of the kind of teacher I want to be. I’m also proud of the fact that I brought AP psychology here in 1996. We had just a one-semester general psychology class (before then). Now, it’s one of the more popular AP class offerings. 

St. Louis Park Patch: What do you like most about teaching psychology, and what do you think students like most about learning it?

Goddard: I think there’s so much application. I kid students the first day when they’re sitting in here wide-eyed and bushy tailed. I tell them we’re going to deal with your favorite topic. They look around, trying to figure it out, and finally someone will go, “Us?” Yeah, you. It isn’t purely about “them,” but I think the thing I like about it is that it deals with so many things that are applicable to their lives. And ... this is a very pertinent age to (teach) it. They’re naturally inquisitive at this age, and curious about what’s influencing who they’ve become to this point. And they’re still in the process of forming an identity … (The class) gives them some tools to be able to understand that, and to be able to contemplate what those factors are that are shaping them.

St. Louis Park Patch: What's your life like outside of the classroom?

Goddard: I’ve got a wife, who is also a teacher. She’s at PSI. She’s been working in the district since the mid-90s, and I met her while I was teaching here. I have two children, a fifth-grader and a third-grader, both of them at PSI. So I’m Park through and through, though I don’t live in the Park—I live in Hopkins. My life has revolved a lot around this community. I’m now teaching some of the kids of my classmates. I am also the boys golf coach. I’ve done that since I was hired here in ’91. I enjoy, obviously, golfing. Because my wife is a teacher, and our kids are on the same schedule as us, it offers the opportunity to do some traveling in the summer. We try to do a road trip each summer.  Last summer, we spent 12 days heading out to the Grand Canyon. We camped for six of those 12 days. My wife’s family also has a cabin we frequent in the summer, up in the Iron Range. I enjoy going to sporting events and reading. My wife wouldn’t say it, but I also enjoy going to movies (laughing). She wants me to go to more.

St. Louis Park Patch: Maybe she’s dragging you to the wrong movies?

Goddard: Yeah, it’s true (laughing). I got her to go to “Moneyball,” though. That was good.

St. Louis Park Patch: Any really interesting places you've traveled to?

Goddard: In 1999, I took a leave of absence—she did too—and we taught for three years in North Africa, at an international school there. She taught elementary, I taught high school. In the capital of Tunisia—Tunis.

St. Louis Park Patch: What was that like for you?

Goddard: It was wonderful. It really opened up our eyes. It’s a 98, 99 percent Muslim country. It’s a former French protectorate, so the language of the learned class, at least, is French and universal Arabic. It’s the home to the ancient city of Carthage, which was a huge power during the time of the Romans ... There were 40 different nationalities that went to our school. We taught in English. We didn’t learn French or Arabic—though it would have been nice if we had. We picked up just enough to order food and buy groceries and that’s about it. All of those experiences helped shape me, and also my teaching.

St. Louis Park Patch: What will you do if you win Teacher of the Year?

Goddard: (Laughing) I really haven’t thought about it. I’m just so honored and humbled to be nominated. As I was putting together my portfolio, I just said, “I’m going to send it off and see what happens” ... I know there are a lot of great teachers out there. It’s nice to be recognized ... I take it as a nice honor for me and also my profession. If it goes beyond this, great. If it doesn’t, I’m just delighted about how far it has gone.

Eliza March 02, 2012 at 04:56 AM
What wonderful news to see Mr. Goddard, or just "Goddard" as we called him, be nominated for this award! I took AP Psych with him during my senior year, graduating in '99. Taking his class significantly influenced my life, as I went on to major in Psychology in college, studied Cognitive Studies in Educational Practice for my M.A., and have been an elementary school teacher for the past 8 years. The most memorable assignment in Goddard's class was a video project, creating a skit to illustrate the brain's flexibility to create new, positive connections to eliminate negative ones. It was silly (involving birthday cake in the face), but I still remember the concept! Thank you, Mr. Goddard, and good luck! -- Eliza Chung (Bang), Class of '99
Michael Rose (Editor) March 02, 2012 at 04:59 AM
What a great story! Thanks for sharing, Eliza!

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