For the next year, Aaron Bredenkamp will serve as a conduit connecting Nebraska teachers to the U.S. Department of Education.
Bredenkamp, a math teacher at the Westside High School Career Center, the district’s alternative high school, is one of 12 teachers nationwide selected by the federal education department as a “teaching ambassador fellow” for the 2012-13 school year. It’s the first time a Nebraskan has been selected.
As a fellow, Bredenkamp, 31, will collect and funnel Nebraska teachers’ takes on federal education policy to top officials in Washington, D.C. He also hopes to bring back research and resources that Nebraska teachers can use in their classrooms.
“If we don’t include our voices,” he said, “that eliminates our voice from any future output from the Education Department.”
The teaching ambassador program is in its fifth year. It was created to give outstanding teachers the chance to learn about national education policy and to contribute their insights to policy discussions. The fellows in turn share with other teachers what they learn.
Bredenkamp and the 11 other fellows were selected from among 625 applicants from nearly every state. Six will work full time for the Education Department. Bredenkamp and five others will continue working in their classrooms and participate part time.
Bredenkamp said he’ll participate in various ways. He’ll be at multiple stops along the Education Drives America bus tour, which take Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other top department officials coast to coast Sept. 12 to 21. Stops are scheduled west and south of Nebraska, including one in Kansas City, Mo. This year’s tour, the department’s third, will include community discussions about school reform, college affordability and the link between education and jobs.
Teaching wasn’t Bredenkamp’s first career choice.
He set out to follow in his dad’s footsteps and become a banker. He was a double major studying math and finance at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and working in the business world.
But he didn’t feel as if he were having much of an impact. He talked with his math professor, who suggested Teach for America, a national corps of recent college graduates who commit to teaching in low-income urban and rural areas. Bredenkamp immediately started working as a math tutor at UNL and realized that in education “you get to see what you do.”
He taught in Chicago for three years with Teach for America. He’s been with Westside for five years.
Bredenkamp said he enjoys seeing his students grow. “It’s not just about the math,” he said. “It’s about ‘How can we make education a desirable thing, to want to be a learner?’ And there’s a lot of payoff in that.”
At the same time, his students push him to be creative in order to make those connections. “I feel like the demands are making me more progressive than if I was in a traditional classroom,” he said.
Meantime, he’s a student, too. He has a master’s degree in education from Dominican University in the Chicago area, a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and is a doctoral student at UNO.
“I find it’s good to be a student while you’re a teacher,” he said. “It kind of keeps you relevant.”
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