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Oak Ridge teacher recognized for all the good

Oak Ridge Social Studies teacher Steve Seely received the California League of Schools' Educator of the Year award. Village Life photo by Shelly Thorene
Oak Ridge Social Studies teacher Steve Seely received the California League of Schools' Educator of the Year award. Village Life photo by Shelly Thorene

“Teaching provides an unlimited opportunity to do good,” said Steve Seely, an Oak Ridge High School social science teacher

Seely has done a lot of good and was recently selected as the California League of High Schools’ 2013 State High School Educator of the Year.

“I see these kinds of awards as a way to recognize the teaching profession, not just individuals,” said Seely. “Teaching is a noble profession and I am surrounded by gifted people.”

Doing good by helping kids develop the skills to master their lives is the focus of  Seely’s  25-year teaching career. In the speech before the CLHS selection committee Seely recounted his first days as a new teacher: “I learned that kids are not just kids, they are people. People first. Then students. Those students taught me that to think of them as any less was likely to diminish the power to matter in their lives. It’s an old cliché, but apt I think: They don’t  care how much you know unless they know how much you care.”

Oak Ridge Principal Steve Wehr nominated Seely. “Steve is an incredible teacher and very focused on the development of students,” said Wehr. “He’s a teacher leader on campus and we were very excited to share him with the region and the state through the award process.”

Seely, 54, focuses on the larger themes of life in his history and government classes. “These are the things that stay with people, no matter what you teach: perseverance, hard work and determination,” he explained.

During a recent lesson Seely showed a CNN clip of a violinist Adrian Anantawan, who was born without a right hand, and he talked about how purpose can come out of pain. “It might be that you find your life purpose in what brings you pain,” said Seely. “This is a time when citizens need to react and care and talk about what that purpose might be.”

He holds a master’s degree in American History from UCLA, fellowships from Harvard, Stanford and Brown University and has contributed to a dozen different books and programs, including two national textbooks currently used at Oak Ridge. Seely spent a decade as a curriculum developer for Teacher’s Curriculum Institute, 14 years as a teacher trainer for elementary and secondary teachers across the nation and 10 years as a training consultant. He has earned the Oak Ridge High School Teacher of the Year awards three times.

Six years ago Seely founded Balance Sports Publishing, which works with the Positive Coaching Alliance, a national youth sports organization, to produce a series of books to help parents and coaches use sports participation to build character traits in their children. Lucky to have been able to straddle both the world of teaching and of publishing, Seely said the combination is energizing.

“Coaching is another way to make a difference in their lives,” said Seely, who is also the assistant tennis coach at Oak Ridge. “It’s an opportunity to teach more than winning.”

Of the changes he’s seen throughout his career, Seely said, “Kids are always kids. Technology is the biggest shift as phones have become the center of most people’s universe. In class, we talk now about cyber-bullying and the voluntary lack of privacy that kids have.”

Seely has been married to wife Wende for 32 years and they have two children: Lauren,26, and Forrest, 23. “I have no plans to retire. I’m not interested in it. I am fortunate to have found a job I love. That’s where we find our worth.”

Seely had to prepare a resume and paperwork and present speeches for the  two-part selection process. After he was selected as CLHS Region 3’s Educator of the Year representing the counties of Alpine, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba, Seely continued on to the statewide selection process and was selected as Educator of the Year from among 90 educators representing the entire state.
During the selection process, Seely had the opportunity to  listen to his fellow educators’ speeches. “We listened to about 22 speeches one day, which sounds dull, but everyone had a compelling story about the classroom.”
One speech that made the biggest impact on Seely was from a woman who had been teaching for 45 years. “She told us she got pregnant at 14, dropped out of school, got married at 17 and went to college at 26 because she wanted to teach high school,” said Seely. “She never got her high school diploma. After teaching in elementary schools, she became a teacher at a continuation high school and every year her graduating students would bring her their diplomas. She said she was planning to put them all up on a wall to look at when she retired. That inspires me because teaching is a collective effort to help kids.”

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Posted by on Mar 24 2013.
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1 Comment for “Oak Ridge teacher recognized for all the good”


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  1. Great news and great reporting. Congratulations, Mr. Seely!

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