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Bonner: Changing classroom culture keeps students engaged

michael bonner 1.jpg

Michael Bonner, a second-grade teacher at South Greenville Elementary School, talks about innovation in the classroom during a surprise visit to John A. Holmes High School on Wednesday. Bonner, who has appeared on the "Ellen DeGeneres Show," was a student-teacher at White Oak Elementary School in the Edenton-Chowan Schools.

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By Rebecca Bunch
Chowan Herald

Friday, May 19, 2017

EDENTON — Michael Bonner, a South Greenville Elementary School teacher who has become a household name since his appearance on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” earlier this year, made a surprise visit to the Edenton-Chowan Schools on Wednesday.

Bonner was introduced by Tanya Turner, the district’s assistant superintendent, near the finish of an end-of-year celebration for beginning teachers, mentors and support coaches. Bonner, who is a native of Perquimans County and a graduate of Elizabeth City State University, was a student teacher at White Oak Elementary School in Chowan County. Among those welcoming him was Tracy Faircloth, who was his mentor during his time at White Oak.

During an interview with the Chowan Herald, Bonner talked about the joys and challenges of being a teacher. He said that he is impressed and grateful for the emphasis that Gov. Roy Cooper places on education in a state where teacher salaries are ranked 35th in the nation.

“I think it (salary) is an important tool for attracting the best teachers,” he said. “I think our governor is doing a good job looking out for teachers.”

Cooper, who was elected in 2016, has announced a commitment to making sure teacher pay in North Carolina reaches the national average in five years.

Bonner also believes that the letter-grade system state lawmakers implemented for schools is a necessary tool, both for assessing how educators are doing and for identifying areas that could use improvement. He cautioned, however, that in looking at the school grading results, people need to put them in perspective by considering the particular circumstances that affect school districts. He said those circumstances include the economic vitality of a community, the level of local support and parents’ commitment to the best possible education for their children.

“I think it’s critical for people to take those things into consideration,” he said.

During his public presentation to the educators assembled in the Holmes media center, Bonner, a second-grade teacher, offered advice for being effective in the classroom. He recalled a turning point in his own career came during his third year of teaching when he was feeling burned out.

“That year tested everything I believed,” he said. “I seriously contemplated giving up teaching.”

Bonner said he finally realized if he was going to continue as a teacher, some things had to change. He said he felt compelled to develop some innovative ways to teach his students. Modeling enthusiastic behavior in the classroom to engage children’s interest became a winning strategy for him, he said.

“That’s how I approach my classroom now — by changing the culture, making what I teach engaging and fresh,” Bonner said.

It was one of those fresh ideas, a rap video he used as a teaching tool that went viral on the internet, that first brought Bonner to the attention of Ellen DeGeneres and her production staff. Not only did he later appear on the show, he also got to take his students, he said.

Bonner also encouraged Edenton-Chowan teachers Wednesday to keep a positive attitude and to foster a positive environment in their classrooms.

“You just bring your own special gifts to the table and that will be enough for a kid,” he said.

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