October 07, 2010

Subject comes to life for prize-winner's students

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
Caption: Photo by MMF.org

English teacher Marcus Eure was excited about the upcoming school assembly at Brewster High School where state Education Commissioner David Steiner would be speaking. It fit right into Eure's curriculum.

First, he prepared his AP language students in how to review Steiner's speech, teaching them how study it for rhetoric. He taught them how to listen for how Steiner, in his message, would probably use language crafted just for students.

Then he took his media studies students, and moving up a unit on journalism, prepared them for covering the big event as a news team. Eure asked the principal's office for permission to have the commissioner available for questions from the editor of the school newspaper after the assembly. Eure is adviser to the school paper, The Bear Facts. He got clearance for photos and instructed his students how to dress when covering an event. After all, this was going to be big news, Eure thought, hearing about how Brewster would be getting money in the federal Race to the Top program.

Given all that, Eure, a member of the Brewster Teachers Association, thought it made sense when school administrators had him sit in front. He was there to guide his students, after all.

Instead, it was his turn to be guided -- right up to the podium, after it was announced that he was the surprise winner of a $25,000 Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation.

Lowell Milken, co-founder of the foundation, was up front with Steiner. But they weren't there to talk about Race to the Top; they were there to speak about how teachers deserve recognition, and one of them would be honored today.

Turns out, it was Eure, who is in his sixth year of teaching at Brewster High School. But he didn't quite believe it at first.

He said the student sitting next to him said "No, that's you, you have to get up."

Eure said he loves teaching in Brewster, a Putnam County village where all the schools except one are on the same street, and there is a community. Along with his regular classes, he teaches students from the district's new Clearpool Alternative school, using creative ways to teach contemporary literature.

Eure teaches thought-provoking matter, such as the nature of lying, getting students to examine lying as a concept. He has students read essays on the subject, the letter "Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus" and the novel The Catcher in the Rye, whose protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is a self-professed liar. He has them learn to read and listen for lying, whether it be culturally, politically or conversationally.

"We look at the ways language shifts meaning around," he said, "for example in the military, where a "daisy cutter" is actually a type of missile that explodes into shrapnel."

His ideas are not to promote one way of thinking over another, but to get students to become aware of language.

He has them study the philosophy of torture in cult movies and books, and then compare that to national debate on torture of prisoners to get students to make connections.

Eure is also an adviser for the school's literary magazine, Urus. He is active with the Brewster TA, led by Nick Viglucci, showing up for events like getting votes out for the school budget to pass.

The Virginia native said he has no immediate plans for the unrestricted award money, although he will use some of it to visit his three siblings, whom he described as his "best friends," who live in other states. His parents are both deceased; his mom died this past May.