For Patrick Carney, teaching a student about values and kindness trumps nearly everything else that can be learned in the classroom.
Carney is one of three Inspirational Educators honored this month by the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club. He spoke for precisely 17 minutes at the club’s meeting Thursday.
“Apparently some colleagues know I like to talk,” Carney said, adding that he warns his students at the start of each year “if you don’t like the sound of my voice, it’s going to be a long year.”
Carney is an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Bowling Green Middle School.
He said he got hooked on political science and history at Bowling Green State University and knew teaching social studies was his destiny. He has taught at BGMS for 21 years and has been a cross country coach for the high school and middle school for 20 years.
He spoke on teaching values and interpersonal relationships between the students and teachers – not lessons that will be found in a social studies book.
His impact on students was apparent as many of the Kiwanians said he was either their child’s favorite teacher or favorite coach.
“Pat is an engaging and passionate educator,” said middle school Principal Eric Radabaugh, “and he truly cares about the success of the students, inside and outside of school.
“He truly practices what he teachers,” Radabaugh said.
“I know it sounds so simplistic, but saying hello and goodbye to students, asking how their day was … asking to really understand and have a conversation with them about what is happening in their life” is how he connects with students, Carney said. Once that relationship happens, learning comes a lot easier, he said.
Carney’s “job,” as he puts it, is to help students become polite, kind, patriotic, contributing members of the local and global community.
“I’m a social studies teacher. I’m a proud patriotic American. I love this country and I believe I have a firm understanding of the sacrifices that so many have made so we may live free,” he said.
People have asked why he went into teacher and for years his answer was so he could pass on his love of history and help students understand who they are as Americans and where they came from.
But his answer had expanded over the years. Now it would be because he enjoys teaching youngsters how to respect and treat each other.
“I teach them that they have value and that they matter.”
One “aha” moment came 15 years ago when he had to change from teaching American History to World Civilizations. He said he was not happy about the change and was griping one day, when veteran social studies teacher George Nagy said, “good teaching is good teaching, it doesn’t matter what the content.”
Making a connection with students is far more important than putting an emphasis on delivering content, Carney said.
He began “inviting” students to his classroom at the beginning of the day.
“I have to admit it was a bit of a punitive intervention,” Carney said. If they didn’t attend, they had to spend lunch in the school detention room.
He learned more about their lives during this time, about how home-life difficulties affected grades.
With time, grades went up and students gained a new sense of confidence.
As they succeeded, Carney learned that one of the biggest impacts he was having on students was giving them somebody to connect with, someone who would listen and show them they mattered.
“This is what our adolescents need.”
That transformed Carney’s purpose in his classroom. His lessons now include cooperative coursework where respect and tolerance are expected and are the norms.
Lessons involve storytelling — after all, the word story is imbedded in the word history for a reason.
“I strive to use history as a catalyst of teaching values such as kindness, courage, perseverance and tolerance.”
His lessons include the perseverance of Lewis and Clark and Harriet Tubman, as well as the embarrassment of enslavement and the genocide of American tribes.
Carney asks his students what can be done to make sure such atrocities never happen again, and their answer is to stop racism and intolerance.
After discussion it always boils down to one thing: Be kind to each other, be tolerant of each other.
“Right here in our hallways and our community is where it begins,” Carney said.
Over the years, he has developed an oath for himself.
“In my classroom, all students will be treated fairly. All students will be made to feel successful. All students will feel valued and appreciate. Learning will take place once a positive relationship has been established. History will be used as a catalyst for teaching values such as kindness, courage, perseverance and tolerance.”
Being honored gave Carney the opportunity to reflect on those who have and continue to inspire him.
His personal inspiration comes from his wife of 14 years; his mother, who was a Catholic schools teacher; and his father, a businessman who taught him the values of hard work and living within his means. His children, ages 12, 10 and 7, inspire him every day to be on top of his game.
Professionally, inspiration came from Ann McVey, who he student taught with while at Bowling Green State University, and who taught him how to deescalate issues with middle school-age students. There was Duff Madaras, a former cross country coach who was a master of getting kids to believe any achievement was a great achievement. And former teacher Brian Tucker who was the authority when it came to inspiring students.
“When I think of how I arrived at the place I am today as a teacher and educator, I think of all of these people and so many more.”
Getting an award voted on by his peers is very humbling, Carney said.
“The fact that my staff is so tremendous themselves, the fact that so many deserving people at the middle school nominated me for this award … I look at the names on that plaque and I’m not sure I belong in that same group.”