Chris Gleason, band director at Patrick Marsh Middle School, has been named as one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year program.
In September, Gleason won the honor of Wisconsin Middle School Teacher of the Year. He was chosen as a finalist for the National Teacher of the Year program from among 56 state-level teachers of the year.
Gleason told The Star he was very excited when he heard the news.
“But also very humble, very grateful,” he said. “It’s an amazing honor to even be considered.”
Gleason has been the band director at PMMS for 13 years, and a teacher for 19. During that time, he has established programs across Sun Prairie and Wisconsin that support music education and student performances.
One such program is ComMission Possible, which brings composers to PMMS each year to work with students and create new pieces. In 2009, nationally renowned composer Samuel Hazo collaborated with the band class to write a piece inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting “Blue and Green Music,” a concept which the students chose themselves. They performed the song at a state conference for music teachers, with relatives of Georgia O’Keeffe sitting in the front row.
Gleason said that performance was one of the proudest moments in his teaching career, where he saw “the power of education to go beyond just the notes on the page.”
Additionally, Gleason founded the annual middle school Band Festival at the Kalahari, and has a partnership with UW-Eau Claire, his alma mater, to pair his students with college students who are largely music educators. He is also active in community leadership, including as a member of the Comprehensive Music through Performance Committee, and as the chair of the Wisconsin School Music Association Middle Level Honors Project.
Throughout his career as an educator, Gleason said he’s discovered that being a teacher means to shape lives.
“It means lighting a fire in kids and helping them to find their passion,” he said. “Teaching is really difficult, complex work, but it also means you get to witness the achievement of your students … and get to see the real, true beauty of the human spirit.”
And Gleason does succeed in lighting a flame for the students, said PMMS Principal Corey Shefchik.
“He ignites the same passion that he has for music and for teaching and learning,” Shefchik said. “The kids, you know, they’re just thrilled to be a part of the program, and they end up becoming lifelong learners and musicians.”
Even as he continues to run music programs and win teaching awards, Gleason stays humble.
“I don’t consider myself to be the best teacher in the nation, or Wisconsin, or even in my hallway,” he said. “All across Wisconsin and our country there are amazing teachers doing great work each and every day to benefit our children.”
He said he was selected as a finalist for National Teacher of the Year because “I may have some of those same qualities as some of those great educators.”
“I have a passion for what I do,” he said, “I have a belief for my students and their potential. I have an open heart for my students and the talents each of them bring, and I have a hunger to get better every day.”
The National Teacher of the Year program identifies exceptional teachers nationwide, celebrating their effective work in and outside of the classroom, and empowers them to take part in policy discussions at the state and national levels. The educator selected as teacher of the year spends that year traveling the country as a representative and advocate on behalf of teachers and students.
Gleason said speaking nationally to educators and legislators about the challenges of teaching would be a wonderful opportunity. He said educators can do more to light that fire in students and get them excited about education.
“We need to do that by keeping the curriculum diverse, allowing for many options for the students so they can find themselves in the schools,” Gleason said.
He added he would welcome the opportunity to talk to legislators about school funding, especially as the Sun Prairie Area School District continues to be the fastest growing district in the state.
Gleason also said he wanted to thank his spouse and kids, as well as other Sun Prairie educators.
“I’m part of a great team in Sun Prairie,” he said. “We take for granted the amazing teachers we have here and, really, across Wisconsin. People are just dedicated to kids.”
State Superintendent Tony Evers, in a Jan. 9 statement, said the state of Wisconsin is fortunate to have Gleason as an educator.
“Chris is a perfect example of how teachers make a lasting impact on their students when they support their needs in addition to challenging them academically,” Evers said. “I am positive he will represent Wisconsin and the high caliber of teachers we have across our state well in the next round of the National Teacher of the Year Program.”
Gleason and the three other finalists for National Teacher of the Year will now participate in a rigorous interview process over the next few months with a selection committee of the Council of Chief State School Officers. The 2017 National Teacher of the Year winner will be announced in spring.