A middle-school teacher known for inspiring students not just in the classroom but through extracurricular activities and field trips has been named the Andover Rotary Club's first Educator of the Year.
John Waters, headmaster of Pike School; Diane Shaw, a professor at Merrimack College, and former School Committee member Tina Girdwood reviewed the nominations and hands down decided the recipient should be John Givens, an eighth-grade English teacher and master of the field-trip scene at Doherty Middle School. He's been teaching at Doherty for the past 32 years and was honored at last week's Citizens Who Care reception.
"We believe he sets an ideal example for youth, and that is why he was an overwhelming choice for our Educator of the Year," Rotarian Raymond J. Cannon Jr., said of Givens. "Upon asking some of his students (about him), they responded with phrases like, 'keeps us busy,' 'tells us good stories,' 'adventurous,' and, especially, 'awesome.'"
Givens, who hails from Scotch Plains, N.J. and graduated with a bachelor's in English from Gordon College, took the award news the same way he seems to take everything. He was very professional - but behind that smile surely loom thoughts of fantastic plans for summer vacation. That's what kids enjoy about his classes. He may assign lots of reading assignments and writing, but when it comes to having fun with friends, he's also the man. Givens gets an A+ when it comes to balancing his English curriculum for adolescents with extracurricular offerings.
During school vacations, Givens has led student trips to an exchange school in Beijing, China; to Washington, D.C.; Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota and Andover, England, as well as ski trips, hayrides and laser tag games.
"In addition, he has coached drama for 12 years. He believes in kids experiencing and learning new things, and especially that they are 'a work in progress,'" Cannon said.
To bring his lessons to life, he has encouraged students to work on goal projects, including a current CD project in which each student chooses 10 stories and songs that have connection and special personal meaning. They then design the CD cases, burn the CDs and present their stories, with the music, to their classmates.
Students stay tuned to learning about life and school topics as a result.
"It's like velcro," Givens said of his trips. "For the rest of their life they will be measuring and comparing the things they study in the classroom or read in a book against what they witnessed personally. I think travelling provides a wonderful context for future learning."
Givens said some of the trips have been quite simple and local, such as hiking Baker's Meadow in October or snowshoeing the Phillips Academy bird sanctuary during winter.
"I'm so pleased when students have a chance to experience something for the first time. I think that's an important aspect of what middle school life should be about - the chance to explore and discover the world around us and ourselves in the process," he said. "Many students learn to ski for the first time on our ski trips. Travelling abroad can be a real eye-opener to the world around us. For young people the experience is priceless."
He certainly must know adolescents well as he and his wife, Cynthia, have six daughters, five of whom went through Doherty. He also is a grandfather of three.
An avid outdoorsman who hikes, skis, scuba dives and rides motorcycles, Givens practices what he preaches: he learns a lot by pursuing interests and passions outside of school, too.
ON MAKING KIDS READ DURING THE SUMMER:
"I'm not against a summer reading list because it helps direct some students to excellent literature. For some it may be the impetus to exploring a genre such as mystery or memoir. I do feel, however, that summer vacation should be more about pursuing your interests and discovering your passions free of the constrictions of an academic environment. Memories that are built through family vacations, camp, spending free time with friends, or diving into a novel just because you want to are the best gift we can give our children."
WHAT'S ON HIS SUMMER LIST?
"I'm reading Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler and Wendell Berry's A Place on Earth. I also promised my daughter, who has recently been stricken with a love of Russian literature, that I'd finish Tolstoy's Anna Karenina before the summer is up."
SUMMER BOOKS FOR 8TH-GRADERS?
"Nothing But the Truth by Avi, Witness by Karen Hesse, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. They represent a pretty broad range of reading levels, styles and subjects."