California Educator

December/January 2019

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Page 47 of 67

" T H I S I S N O T th e j o b f o r i nv e r t e b ra t e s" i s Wi l Beshears' endearing advice for any aspiring educator, a lesson learned after more than two decades of teach- ing all over the world, from inner-city Los Angeles to Ghana . He has spent the last 13 years as the gifted and talented education (GATE) teacher at Manuel A. Salinas Creative Arts Elementary School in San Ber- nardino, where he inspires and challenges students, expands opportunities for kids and their families, and has helped create a thriving learning com- munity that includes parents. ese are just a few of the reasons the San Bernardino Teachers Association (SBTA) member was named a 2020 recipient of the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excel- lence. He represents California as one of 50 California Casualty awardees nationwide. Beshears engages with his fourth and fifth graders on subjects ranging from the words of oral historian Studs Terkel to Paulo Freire's Ped agog y of th e O p pressed. He started a Quotational Quotes Bee, where students compete by memorizing famous historical quotations such as Yiddish sayings and wise words from Mother Jones and Laozi, "as a way to sneak college-level dis- course into the home." "If you take a moment to consider it, how often does a child really get to speak to an adult — teacher or par- ent — in a thought-provoking way?" Beshears asks. "Far too often, we only interact with our children via praise, punishment, or by giving directions." Held annually at CSU San Bernardino (CSUSB), the event has grown to include a Submit-a-Quote competi- tion, where students become the teachers, creating their own deep content that is folded into the curriculum for future lessons, debate and memorization. "Our kids are not simply vessels of knowledge; they are the creators of curricular content," he says. "We continue this outreach in posters featuring our students through- out the Inland Empire. Why? Because wisdom, despite the age of the mind, should be shared." Beshears talks fast, thinks much faster, and it can take some effort to keep up. He never planned on a career in education. It was while working with incarcerated youth during his time attending UCL A that he realized that he cared too much about the future to do any thing oth er than t each . He spent time teaching sex education for Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles (" The best training of my career was teaching sex ed to 14-year-olds," he laughs), taught sixth grade at Florence Nightingale Middle School in Los Angeles, did two educational stints in Ghana, and taught English at Usui Senior High School as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. Since landing in San Bernardino 13 years ago, he's quit traveling the world, opting instead to sate his wanderlust by pushing boundaries in his classroom. Most recently, he formed a partnership called Al Najm ("the star" in Arabic) with a world languages professor from CSUSB. Beshears says it has brought a diversity of culture and outside-the-box thinking to his classroom. "Our first year, we focused on the culture and written Through a partnership with a world languages professor, Beshears' students learn about language, culture and the immigrant experience in the Arabic-speaking world. A Beautiful Mind in San Bernardino Wil Beshears earns NEA Award for Teaching Excellence By Julian Peeples 46 Teaching & Learning Wil Beshears

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