A "million dollar teacher"

Some of the kids at Oakcrest Elementary School are calling John Herber “the million dollar teacher.”

He says when they saw the oversized check that came with being named one of People Magazine’s Teachers of the Year, they must have thought it was for more than the $1,000 he got.

Herber, who was honored in the magazine’s Oct. 28 issue, also got $4,000 for his school. He hopes the school can use that money to buy a shed to store tools and equipment for the school garden.

As for that $1,000 check, he says he wants to use it to take the children on a field trip. “They are the ones who deserve (an award),” he says.

Herber, who teaches fifth-grade science, says elementary education was just the first thing that came to mind when he had to declare a major while enrolling at Daytona Beach Community College.

“They told me I could always change it,” he says. But he never did. He completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of West Florida.

His first job was teaching at Lincoln Park Elementary School, which serves a low-income neighborhood, just as Oakcrest does. He taught in the ICARE alternative program before landing at Oakcrest seven years ago.

Since then, Oakcrest’s students have steadily improved their science proficiency scores on state standardized tests. In 2009, 13 percent of the students there were proficient in science; in 2013, 66 percent were according to Florida Department of Education data.

“I love the challenge and I love the kids,” he says of his students. “Once you get to know them, they are great. They need good teachers, more than anyone else. I’d hate to leave (Oakcrest).”

And as curriculum standards are changing -- including the switch to Common Core standards -- more is being asked of all students at a younger age than in years past.

“I think they are learning a lot earlier, (especially) in the math curriculum,” he says. “If you miss it when you are younger” you risk falling behind in later school years.

Herber doesn’t give homework. “Every time I give them something, they can do it by choice. I try to make it engaging enough that they want to do it and more of them end up doing it.”

After this week’s lesson on force and motion wraps up, Herber’s students will move on to studying rocks and minerals.

This week he will collect spiral notebooks his students had the option to keep for a month. Each lesson in Herber’s class wraps up with a “content statement,” the underlying scientific principle each lesson is meant to convey.

Students may use their notebooks to write down instances when they observe those “content statements” in application in real life.

They get one point for every time they correctly make an observation. The points could be used to earn prizes, with the person getting the most points winning a mountain bike.

Last year the girl who had the most points didn’t even want the bike; turned out she wanted a toy he had in the prize pool from the Dollar Tree.

She won, he says, so she ought to pick the prize she wants.

Teaching was a good fit for him, he says. “I’ve always gotten along with kids who are hard to get along with.”

Was he one of those children? “With the teachers I was.

“I know where these kids are coming from when they act out. And I remember what I was like, especially in high school, for my teachers.”

Of parents, Herber asks three, deceptively simple things: Make sure they do their homework, ask them how their day was and stay involved in their school life.

The truth is, Herber is worth way more than a $1 million to Oakcrest. He’s priceless.