Josh Stumpenhorst has had quite a year.
Honored as the 2012 Illinois Teacher of the Year, the Oswego resident also recently met President Barack Obama at the White House. In addition to teaching and coaching, he has spent the year collaborating with colleagues from all over the world, traveling to conferences and speaking engagements.
Stumpenhorst teaches sixth-grade Language Arts and Social Science at Lincoln Junior High in Naperville School District 203. He’s in his ninth year of teaching, coaches both basketball and track and is involved with the computer club.
Stumpenhorst said junior high requires a special breed of teacher who can handle “the insanity of the junior high day.”
“It’s exciting, and I never get bored in my job," he said. "There’s something new every day when you’re dealing with 12-year-olds ... I just get them.
“I’m surrounded by so many good people and I work in such a supportive and positive building. ... There are lots of people to challenge me and I don’t mind negative feedback."
Jay Pape has taught with Stumpenhorst for nine years. He and Stumpenhorst have also coached together for seven of those years.
“It is my belief that Josh has been recognized as a model teacher in Illinois for his willingness to evaluate and reflect on his own teaching style, making the necessary changes to increase student learning in his classroom," Pape said. "He not only is a teacher of students, but an educator of his peers, as he willingly shares ideas, research and technology that he has found useful in the classroom environment. Additionally, his influence doesn’t stop at the end of the school day, as he brings talents to the coaching realm in a positive and encouraging manner.”
In the summer of 2010, Stumpenhorst attended an international conference and decided to start a blog about his experience. Stumpenhorst said the blog “took off” and now receives 20,000 views each month. Stumpenhorst also has 7,000 Twitter followers.
Technology has created an extensive connection worldwide for Stumpenhorst. Using Skype, he interacts with classrooms in other states and his network allows him to easily locate resources for his students.
Rob Hunt has taught in the classroom next to Stumpenhorst’s for the past nine years, often joining forces for learning activities and working together to implement changes.
“Josh is never content with the status quo in the classroom or in the field of education,” Hunt said. “He is highly reflective and critical of his own teaching and is willing to adapt and change as he sees opportunities for his students to benefit from different opportunities.”
Last fall, Stumpenhorst started the Collaboreyes Project. Sunglasses were sent to classrooms around the world. Students wear the sunglasses for a picture at a location of significance to them and write about the location. Goals of the project are “to see the world through the eyes of the kids living in it” and to “connect kids around the world through the power of story-telling and images.”
Stumpenhorst hopes to get a pair of the sunglasses into space. He also officially gifted a pair to President Obama while in D.C. in April.
Stumpenhorst said his approach to teaching is to focus on what’s truly important – the kids.
“I have to know the kid as a person before I can teach them as a student …Students are humans, not products," he said.
Hunt described how Stumpenhorst showed patience and forgiveness to earn the trust of a student whose family had a history of drug and alcohol abuse.
“Although a year is not long enough to overcome a lifetime of problems, Josh truly made a difference for this student by developing a relationship with her and establishing a classroom where she felt safe and respected,” Hunt said.
Stumpenhorst said his biggest frustration as a teacher is tackling the negative perception of teachers often portrayed in the media and by government.
“Teaching is not viewed as a profession. We are taken advantage of and we are taking a bad rap,” he said.
Stumpenhorst and his wife have lived in Oswego for nine years. They have two boys, ages 6 and 4. Stumpenhorst runs each day, pursuing the goal of running 365 consecutive days.
Stumpenhorst said he has no aspirations to become an administrator. Future goals are to improve his teaching each year and to earn a doctorate in educational technology.