Most teachers don’t go into the field of education for fame and fortune. But for three Johnson County teachers, fame seems to be finding them whether they like it or not.
By SARA BEANE
Special to The Star
Josh Anderson of Olathe Northwest High School, Ron Poplau of Shawnee Mission Northwest High and Keil Hileman of Monticello Trails Middle School in the De Soto School District are all featured in a new coffee table book called American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom. The hardcover book sells for around $45 and can be found at Barnes and Noble bookstores.
In the book, author Katrina Fried profiles 50 public school teachers from across the country who were exemplary representatives of their profession. All of the teachers in the book were either recommended by educational organizations or fellow teachers.
“I was very humbled by the other teachers in the book,” Anderson said. “They represent the most extreme end of the talent and dedication spectrum. I hardly feel like I am in league with any of them.”
Anderson, Poplau and Hileman are all quick to downplay their selection for the book. Yet all three have received prestigious honors over the years for their work in the classroom.
Anderson, a debate, forensics and English teacher, was the 2007 Kansas Teacher of the Year winner and one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year. Poplau, who teaches a community service class, won the Kansas Teacher of the Year award in 2006 in addition to being a National Teacher of the Year finalist. And Hileman, who teaches middle school history and high school archeology, was named the Kansas Teacher of the Year in 2004 as well as being a finalist for the national title.
All three are seen as innovators in the classroom. Hileman’s archeology class is one of only two high school archeology courses in the country. He’s amassed an amazing collection of more than 20,000 historical artifacts that he uses to teach his class. (High school students head to his classroom at the middle school to take his popular class.)
Poplau presides over one of the most popular elective courses in his school: a community service class that lets students leave school for 50 minutes each day to volunteer at elementary schools and retirement homes in their community.
And Anderson has taught outside-the-box lessons such as writing technical manuals for new school technology to help his students strengthen their technical reading and writing skills.
Awards and accolades aside, Anderson, Poplau and Hileman are first and foremost hardworking teachers who are dedicated to seeing their students succeed. While they seem to be reluctant book subjects, they are pleased that Fried’s book puts the spotlight on the important work that teachers do.
“The idea of the book is to raise up teachers who are getting the job done when it is becoming more difficult,” Hileman said. “There are more challenges to teachers now than ever before.”
“We care about kids and we want kids to succeed,” Poplau said. “That’s what all the teachers in this book have in common.”
Hileman feels the book can create hope and inspiration for other teachers. He is hopeful that teachers will read it and take ideas from it.
As for the idea of teachers as heroes as the book’s title suggests, each of the men has his own opinion on whether that is true.
“The word heroes is a misplaced modifier, it belongs on the student,” Anderson said.
“I am of the opinion that I am certainly not a hero,” Poplau said. “We are all part of this class, we all do this together.”
“Yeah, I think teachers that get people to work together to make positive change and a difference in their community, they are heroes,” Hileman said.
Hileman and Anderson will take part in a local public appearance to promote American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom. They will speak at 1 p.m., Saturday at the Barnes and Noble at Town Center Plaza at 119th Street and Roe Boulevard in Leawood. The event is part of Barnes and Noble’s Educator Appreciation Week.