Luke Weinbrecht – Academic Speciaist for The Carrera Program
2013-2014 Teacher of the Year
Luke Weinbrecht, an academic specialist with The Carrera Program, was named the 2013-2014 8th Grade Teacher of the Year.
“Growing up in a family with all teachers, I grew up surrounded with the love of education,” Weinbrecht said. “I am lucky that my parents and grandparents supported every educational decision that I made. The reason I have become a teacher is multifaceted. Like many, my decision comes from my own educational story.”
He explained that during elementary, middle, and high school, he struggled through several grades.
“This struggle caused me to become connected to school, because I knew that school was a safe, secure, and supportive environment that allowed me to learn, not be inhibited, from the struggles. I wanted to succeed, and I knew that I could. Teachers believed in my abilities as a student and supported me as I grew,” he said.
Here is my story…
“In elementary school, I was diagnosed with a learned disability in reading and English. From this, influential teachers entered my life as I learned to cope with my difficulties in reading, spelling, and English. My parents helped my overcome my dyslexia by creating songs and dance moves to learn the countless spelling words (some of which I still do today). Reading transformed from being a constant struggle to decode the simplest words, to an experience where books came alive through acting, storytelling, and imagination. Science and math became my escape from my own struggles. Science allowed me to explore the world around me, ask questions, and design experiments to test my own understandings. Math was systematic and filled with patterns. Here I learned that school was a place that students, no matter their ability, can become connected and start to thrive.
When I entered middle school, I told my parents that I did not want to have special services. Rather, I was committed to figuring out how I could succeed on my own. Eighth grade was challenging, but I was able to maintain my grades. Entering into ninth grade, I knew that my grades started to count towards my high school GPA, so I made a commitment to myself that I would maintain an A average. My English class was challenging. My English teacher set high expectations and made no exception. I finished the year earning an A- because of my low AR reading score. I still thank Mrs. Webb for that experience because at that point I knew that teaching was about challenging students to reach their full potential. In her class, I began to love reading. I completed the first book, which I read on my own initiative, Night by Elie Wiesel. I did not reach my goal of maintaining an A average, but did learn that I could do it. I could succeed.
I continued to struggle in my English classes in high school but maintained my commitment to my education. I joined cross country, swimming, and track teams. I became immersed into the school experience. During a swim meet my junior year, I became extremely sick and ended up losing 15 pounds in a matter of a few days. After several rounds of medical testing, I was diagnosed with Thyroiditis. My own immune system was attacking my thyroid cells, causing excessive release of the thyroid hormone that regulates metabolism. I was told that my thyroid had to heal on its own, which may take several months. I would first go through a phase of hyperthyroidism (which lasted for 5 months), and then a period of hypothyroidism (which lasted for 3 months). I knew that the symptoms of both would affect my performance at school and in athletics. Again, deciding that I did not want any special treatment, I amped up my commitment to school. My teacher knew and supported me when things were rough. In particular, my science teacher Mr. Ballard made it clear to me that he would support me through the healing process, but he would not lower his expectations for his class.
If I wanted to be a scientist, I needed to succeed. From him, I learned to love the study of science. Science became my escape from the realities of my life. I could control the experiments I designed. When things were extremely difficult with my weight, anxiety, and fatigue, Mr. Ballard was there to provide motivation. Mr. Ballard taught me that education is important, but equally important was the support and dedication teachers had towards their students.
Entering in to my freshman year of undergrad, I had made the decision to become a chemical engineer or a geologist. I decided to double major in Chemistry and Geosciences. I continued to be immersed in school and athletics. During my junior year, I was asked if I wanted to become the Geosciences departmental tutor. I agreed because I needed to make extra money, not knowing how it was going to change my life. I began tutoring for 2-3 hours, two times a week, in the evenings. Students at any stage in their geosciences degree came to me for one-on-one or group tutoring. I soon had a consistent “class” that met on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I retaught many different concepts, provided alternative ways to learn material, and started mentoring students. I remember the evening that I left the geology lab with Kate (my wife), and knowing that teaching was my passion. Science was my love, but the teaching of science was my true passion. I loved the moment when a struggling student finally understood a concept, or when a student reached out to you for help because of the relationship that you built in the classroom. I knew, I am a teacher.
Weinbrecht said, “I kept my commitment to myself of maintaining an A average and finished high school with a 3.99 GPA. I have maintained my love for reading and remind myself of my previous experiences and how teachers were there to help. As a teacher, I think back on what I learned from the teachers who were committed to my success as a student. I remember the moment that I realized that teaching was my vocation. Why did I become a teacher? My own educational story and the need to give back to the community that provided so much for me. To be a teacher who is committed to each student’s success. To be a teacher that advocates for struggling students. To be a motivator, when life is tough. Each year I share my story in hopes that my students share their stories with me. Together we can walk the path of education towards a better future.”
Science is about understanding the world around you, he said.
“My favorite teaching method is allowing students to participate in true student-centered inquiry. Student in my class are required to develop an experiment from start to finish with my guidance,” Weinbrecht said. “They start by asking a question, and end by presenting their findings to the class. This allows students to practice self-initiative, provides students the opportunity to pursue their own interests in specific topics we study in class, and creates a community of learners.”
He added, “I have found that student-centered inquiry allows students of all ability the opportunity to succeed and truly challenge themselves. Students have told me that during these experiences, they finally felt that they could succeed in science. They developed a connection to science, school, and the process of learning.”
Students face many issues in the 21st Century.
“I think that the most important issue that students, and education, are facing today is the continued access and support to high quality education,” he said, “With the state department cutting educational funding, restricting student progress with mandating high stakes testing, the continual focus on testing and not on student growth and authentic learning, I feel that we are losing the true goal of the educational system.
“Union Public Schools maintains a commitment to providing high quality educational opportunities for all students, despite funding cuts and high stakes testing. I feel that our students at Union are lucky, but looking at the state of education in Oklahoma, we are facing a larger issue. Action needs to be taken to redirect the educational focus. All stakeholders should take action: students, parents, community members, teachers, and administrators.”
Weinbrecht started teaching at Union as a sign language interpreter in December of 2009. “That August, my wife and I had moved from Washington to Oklahoma to pursue higher education. I began substitute teaching in Broken Arrow, Jenks, and Union schools. I felt a connection to the Union mission and faculty that filled the schools. When the sign language interpreter job opened, I was excited to apply. When I received the job, I was excited to join a team of teachers who were committed to the success of all children. I was hired on as a full time teacher during the 2010-2011 school year as a FOCUS science teacher. This teaching opportunity matched my passion of helping all students, no matter the struggles, succeed academically.”
His future professional goals are to complete his PhD. and to continue to develop in helping teachers create meaningful educational experiences and learning opportunities for students to succeed. “This goal can be achieved by being in a classroom teaching, or becoming an academic specialist, a curriculum specialist, or a researcher. No matter the direction my life takes me, I want to maintain my commitment to Union Public Schools and the belief that all students can succeed given the right environment and opportunities,” he said.
• Kentlake High School, Kent, WA. GPA 3.99
• Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA. BA Chemistry. BA Geoscience. GPA 3.52. Dean’s List.
• Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, OK. MEd Teaching. GPA 4.00.
• Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK. PhD Professional Educational Studies: Science Education. Current GPA 4.00. Expected graduation: May 2015.
• Middle level Science
• Physical Science
• Middle level Math for High School credit
• Indeterminate Math
• FOCUS 8thgrade General Science Teacher, Union Public Schools
• Academic Specialist for Union Carrera Program, Union Public Schools
• The Role of the American Teacher (SCFD 3223), Oklahoma State University.
• Science Methods for Elementary School Teachers (CIED 4353/5083), Oklahoma State University
• Assistant High School Cross Country Coach, Broken Arrow Public Schools
• Assistant High School Swimming Coach, Broken Arrow Public Schools
• Assistant High School Track and Field Coach, Broken Arrow Pubic Schools.
Honors and Awards:
• Catch the Dream Award - September 2011
• Washington State High School Heisman
• Oklahoma Outdoor Classroom Inventory/Website - August 2012 to December 2012. Advisor: Dr. Julie Thomas. Oklahoma State University
• Science-Specific Professional Development for In-Service Elementary Teachers: A Critical Review of Recent Research. June 2012 to Present. Advisor: Dr. Toni Ivey. Oklahoma State University
• Rework: Student Perspectives on Homework Completion. January 2011to May 2011. Advisor: Dr. Jocelyn Payne. Northeastern State University
• Nisqually Glacier: Geologic and Chemical Investigation into the Hydrochemical Properties of a Proglacial Stream. September 2008 to June 2009. Advisor: Dr. Claire Todd. Pacific Lutheran University. Nisqually Glacier, Mount Rainier National Park
• Dissolution of Suspended Sediments from the Nisqually Glacier System. September 2008 to June 2009. Advisor: Dr. Brian Naasz. Pacific Lutheran University. Nisqually Glacier, Mount Rainier National Park
National Conference Presentation:
• Views STEM Teachers, Science Fair Coaches, and Students have Toward the Nature of Science. School Science and Mathematics Association National Conference. San Antonio, TX. 2013.