Mr. Ryan O'Connor

Mr. Ryan O'ConnorMattoon High School

Mattoon, Illinois


I am a 2006 graduate of Bradley University with a dual B.A. in English and Secondary Education. Currently, I am working at Mattoon High School in Mattoon, Illinois as a 9th Grade English teacher. I am very involved in school improvement at the high school and will be starting my Masters work in Educational Administration, however I have no plans to ever leave the classroom. I love it way too much!


Who was your favorite teacher? Why?


My favorite teacher is easily my coordinating teacher during student teaching. Ginger Stubbs was the perfect woman to learn from.  She taught me that to be a productive teacher you need to be willing to get out of your comfort zone, get a little dirty if needed, and really get to know and interact with the students.  For much of my high school life, I had teachers who were the "gods of the classroom" that could have easily been replaced by tape recorders and produced similar results.  Ginger got in the trenches and made sure every student was engaged by tailoring the lesson plans to their interests and showing them how the things they are learning will in fact help them beyond this classroom.  If I am one-fourth of the teacher she is, than I know for a fact I am changing lives.


What are three things every teacher should own?

1. A hobby - in an industry that can rattle your nerves for 120 different reasons every day, it is very important to have something to fall back on.  Be it a bike, a scroll saw, a good book collection.  For me it is a pair of hiking shoes.

2. Something to laugh at- Again falling on the reasons previously stated, you need to remember, especially around state testing time, what it means to laugh.  Mine is a wife, while I do not own her, I did buy the ring that made it so.  She is good at picking me up when I am down.

3. Wine glasses - Self explanatory


If you could have any person (living, dead or fictional) as a principal, who would it be?


I tend to believe that when given a proper example, people rise to high expectations.  Theodore Roosevelt was just such a man.  I'm not saying that he would be the easiest person to work for and, now that I'm thinking about it, faculty meetings would probably be very frightening.  Despite that, he was a person of principle. He knew what he wanted and went for it.  He demanded the best of himself and likewise of those around him, and in a society where mediocrity is the new black, it is time to start demanding more of everyone. 


What profession other than your own would you most like to attempt?


I have always been filled with the Romantic visions of being a firefighter.  Now as someone with a very Irish last name, formerly from the Southside of Chicago, this would seem to be some very sad stereotype, especially with a father who used to be a firefighter himself.  I don't know though, putting yourself in peril to save someone else just seems so right. I guess that is one of the reasons I became a teacher, all of the peril (at least in a political sense) just without the flames.


Describe your all-time favorite lesson/unit activity.


My favorite lesson is R&J Today.  R&J Today is the student modernization of Romeo and Juliet.  The students read The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and then begin, after discussion, the rewriting of the script to a new genre.  It is a commonly done project around the nation but I still just absolutely love it.  The reason is, because student begin to see that this "old literature that makes no sense and has nothing to do with my life" actually does.  They begin to see themes and situations that they themselves have or are dealing with.  It than turns into a conversation about how characters should have dealt with the problems.  It is not only a lesson about Romeo and Juliet, but a lesson about themselves and how to deal with problems they will encounter in their lives.  It is a lot of fun to be a part of.


What is the greatest misconception about teachers?


I think the greatest misconception is that teachers (at least speaking for myself) have summers off.  Sure, I may not be dodging spit balls and trying to figure out if that was a cellphone or a watch I just heard, but with two weeks before school "starts" I have not really had a singe day off.  I think one of the most important things you can do as a teacher is analyze, analyze, analyze. "What worked for me last year? What didn't? What are some ways I can better manage my classroom? What are some new ways I can engage students? What are some ways I can engage parents?" From the time I wake up (to be honest, later than during the school year) until about the time my wife comes home from work, I am trying to improve my output (students who have learned a thing or two).


What stereotype about teachers is true?


Maybe not just as a stereotype for teachers but perhaps for all humanity - We don't deal with change very well.  I am young, 26 years young, and in only three years, I have experienced this too.  "Damnit, why should I change?" is just a lot easier to say than, "Alright, I suppose I could adjust a little bit to accommodate a few more students."  However, due mostly in part to NCLB, it is becoming more and more of a necessity.


How did you know you wanted to be a teacher?


As I'm sure you could tell from my post about other professions, I've always enjoyed the feeling of giving to others.  I bounced around ideas for a long time about how can I best serve the public when I made a connection with struggles I had/continue to have.  I am dyslexic, very dyslexic. 

As a child, I was originally put into remedial reading programs because my pace was extremely slow.  For those who may not be familiar with dyslexia, it is mostly a processing disability.  People often think it means reading things backwards, but it is more like memorizing and remembering things backwards.  So for instance, if I were to look at a clock and it was 1:23 and was asked a few minutes later what time it was, if I didn't give it time to process I would remember 3:21, now add pages and pages of information, and you can see where the difficulties begin to arise, but I digress.  Now it must be known that I am a very, very stubborn individual, and when I am told that something is too difficult for me, I begin to fixate on it and try and overcome it.  Through out the years, I began to.  I moved from the remedial programs into the regular programs, and by the time I transitioned to high school, I was in the honors program.  It was reflecting on that struggle that I discovered how I can best help people.  I empathize with struggles in reading and English, I've lived with it my entire life, and if I, someone with a diagnosed disability in the subject and go through college and then teach, it can serve as an inspiration to those who have similar struggles.  It seems a bit Lifetime I know, but it has had great success, mostly because I know how to deal with those struggles and the kids can see that.

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