Catching up with 2012 Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award Recipient James Sheridan

Today we are checking in with YES Prep Southeast teacher James Sheridan, who received a Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award in 2012.

What has been occupying your time lately (personal or professional)?

This school year has been challenging, balancing COVID protocols while teaching students who have had a disrupted high school experience. Some have knowledge gaps or just need consistency and reinforcement in their routines to allow them to improve. Students need good, consistent teachers and caring adults in their lives; the work of earning their trust and being a respectful steward of the time that we share together is vital.

Personally, I was excited to resume volunteering to pass out cups of water at the Rodeo Run 2022 with my two children and about 85 other members of the YES Prep Southeast community. The event was one of the very last things we did before the world changed in 2020, and after a two-year hiatus, the Rodeo Run was back! Being around so many like-minded folks smiling and encouraging runners who were persevering through cold, cold weather was good for my heart.

I am inspired to keep running and biking with my favorite Peloton instructors (Sam and Matt are awesome!).

What has been your greatest win this current school year?

The improvement of my 11th grade Introduction to Rhetoric and Composition students is my greatest win this year. The tangible growth from writing a paragraph to writing a full multi-paragraph essay with time constraints is noteworthy and special. Students are completing revisions, incorporating feedback, and growing as writers and thinkers. As a result, the number of students failing my class has also decreased steadily. Helping students see the connection between their habits and their academic success is incredibly rewarding. I could not be prouder of my hard-working students, many of whom are dealing with immense, real-world challenges that require their focus and time. They have both my respect and my admiration.

Alongside that student growth, I am very proud to have brought community members from Houston and all over the country into my classroom this year. I have secured visits from teaching artists, poets, puppeteers, directors, activists, and performers from The Catastrophic Theatre, The Houston Cinema Arts Society, and The Alley Theatre who have all given generously of their time and expertise in a year when field trips were not possible. An emerging win is continuing to figure out how to leverage technology to share models of writing in the classroom, to use clips and audiobooks judiciously, and to craft Nearpod lessons to help students progress at their own pace. There is so much more to learn.

What is on the horizon for you as an educator?

In my third decade as a teacher, I still love to celebrate the wins of my students with their families, to always see and appreciate the gold in all that they do. The teaching world of 2022 is a far different place than the chalk and overhead projector technology of my first year in 2000. But the emotional connection has not changed. Students must know that you care. That you know who they are. That you care about them as people and what they can contribute.

To teach is to constantly reexamine and reevaluate your practices and craft, and I look forward to learning and growing as an instructor with new ways of empowering student voice and choice in this age of one-to-one laptops and paperless assignments. I suspect that when I am done with my teaching career, I may look back upon this moment in time as a dividing line of sorts, and I look forward to learning what students need and leaning into that work. I am proud to be a teacher and to carry the inspiration of those who taught me, as well as my previous twenty-one years of accumulated students and memories, forward as we make more memories.