Alternative School Teacher Matt Green, M.A. ’19, Given Golden Apple Award
By Eva Richards
It has been said that the future belongs to the curious.
However, while growing up in a farmhouse in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Matt Green, M.A. ’19, was curious about so many areas that he had a difficult time choosing his future path.
“I’ve always possessed an insatiable curiosity and a desire to learn as much as I can about as many different topics as I can,” Green said. “I had an affinity for almost every course I took in school.”
This thirst for knowledge led to a variety of experiences throughout his schooling.
“In school, I was a mathlete, a band geek, a thespian, and a jock, so I dabbled in a little of everything,” he said. “I really had an amazing educational experience, incredible teachers, and I have no doubt that I am where I am today as a result of exceptional mentors and a grounded, but very well-rounded upbringing and education.”
This top-notch educational experience led to his eventual decision to teach—a choice that led to positively impact the future through the next generation of students. For this work, he was awarded a Golden Apple Teaching Award last month.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing, a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and a certificate in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin in YEAR and YEAR, Green took a role heading up English classes for Grades 9-12 at Roosevelt Community Education Center, an alternative school in Rockford.
“Roosevelt is not an alternative program in terms of behavioral intervention. We really provide a series of accommodations for students who have had social and emotional issues and traumas that have affected their ability to complete their education in a traditional setting,” Green said.
“We don’t get to control which students come into our classroom or the baggage that they are carrying. Our mandate is to help every student to the best of our ability, and I take that challenge head-on. My parents always encouraged me to go where the help was most needed, and I feel as though the students I work with on a daily basis are extremely appreciative of how much they are cared for in my classroom.”
When Green looks at his students, he is filled with hope for the future, especially considering the monumental obstacles some of them have had to overcome to even be in school, much less to finish.
“We have an on-site daycare so that teen moms are able to complete their high school diplomas. Many of our students work full-time jobs on top of being students, so we also have flexible scheduling to accommodate them. Students work at an individual pace so that unforeseen absences are not a detriment to their academic progress,” he said.
Green noted that Roosevelt also has a number of emancipated students, students who are homeless or transient, and many of them are forced to be the responsible members of their households, often looking after younger siblings as well. All these external factors in their lives have a devastating toll on their education.
“While we can’t always alleviate many of those factors, we intervene individually and extend grace when necessary to ensure that our students earn their high school diploma,” he said. “If they are out for a day or a longer period of time, they pick the work up right where we left off.”
Green notes that there is very little “stand-and-deliver lecturing” because every student is in a different place in their coursework. Enough time is embedded in the school day just to work on assignments without the expectation of having to take work home.
“Some students go home to chaos, and we try to provide a stable, safe and consistent atmosphere for them that is highly conducive to focusing, working, and producing,” he said.
Roosevelt also helps students who were bored in a traditional classroom or were unable to get the help they needed in a classroom of 35 students.
“They run the gamut from needing intensive academic intervention to effectively working at a collegiate level,” Green said. “I have to work with all ends of the spectrum all within a given class period, so I have to be flexible.”
The school’s rosters are constantly changing. Once students complete the required coursework to earn their credits, they can move on to their next course the second they are finished. Roosevelt does not have structured semesters as a result, so students are constantly earning course credits and adjusting their schedules to new courses they need.
“It can get complicated, and it is a lot to keep track of as a classroom teacher, but it is highly effective and many students who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to maintain a highly structured schedule at their traditional school are able to thrive and graduate through our program,” Green said. “It is quite impressive. My role is more of a facilitator of the work that each student needs to complete, and I do a good deal of work through collaboration with other teachers in other classes so that students complete cross-curricular work whenever possible. It allows me the latitude to be creative and really tailor coursework for students where they are individually. It is challenging and very rewarding when it works. I never stop trying to design creative and custom assignments for students.”
Green notes that the best part of his job is seeing what his students are able to accomplish, especially if they have been led to believe that they would not be able to complete their coursework or graduate.
“The daily successes and the growth that students demonstrate is why we do our jobs. At the end of the day, it’s about the kids, and they never cease to impress,” he said.
While teaching, Green also earned a master’s degree in secondary English education from the University of Minnesota in YEAR and a master’s in British and American literature from NIU in 2019.
“My time at NIU definitely enriched the knowledge that I bring to the classroom on a daily basis. I adapted a few activities and readings from my coursework and implemented aspects of them in my high school classroom,” he said. “For instance, I took a course on writing for social media, and I use skills I gained there to show my students ways to promote themselves in a professional manner electronically, which is definitely an area of interest to them.”
Green believes it is paramount that his students see him as a lifelong learner, since that is what he wished to instill in them. He provides them information on what to look for when seeking a post-secondary education, helping to foster skills that help them succeed as undergraduates and beyond.
Green’s M.A. degree from NIU also allowed him the credentials needed to teach a dual-credit English 101 composition course through Rock Valley College, the local community college, as well.
“Having a connection to post-secondary academia in a high school environment is extremely valuable to help bridge students to their lives after high school,” he said. “My degree at NIU helped me expand my teaching repertoire and the courses that my school is able to offer our students.”
Green is also able to speak more confidently to students about his experience at NIU, as many of them in Rockford look to NIU to pursue their college education.
“I had a phenomenal experience, and I am able to convey that positive message to my students, who are subsequently more excited and interested in attending, so having been a Huskie makes me a better ambassador for the school itself and helps retain local talent,” he said.
Green ended up winning the awards because he was nominated by a student, and Green is excited about the platform it provides him to speak out on some important issues facing teachers today.
“In an era of anti-intellectual sentiment, increased vitriol at school board meetings, where the teaching profession seems like it is under attack and there is a perennial shortage of current educators and educators coming down the pike, it is important to acknowledge and recognize educators, who do yeoman’s work to prepare the next generation,” he said. “While winning a Golden Apple is certainly vindicating and humbling, there are countless teachers out there deserving of similar recognition.”
Green credits NIU with giving him exemplary teachers who invested in him.
“The professors I had during my time at NIU were inspiring and left a lasting impression on me, which I carry with me when I talk to others about my experience there,” he said. “The mark of a great society is how much it helps those who need the most help. We have to ensure that those most in need of a high-quality education are able to attain it, and that students with the most need benefit from having the best educators.”