Award-winning teacher hopes to improve education, inspire more students to enter the profession

Douglas Hutton, a Glastonbury High School physics teacher, recently earned the prestigious Milken Educator Award, which honors early- to mid-career educators with effective instructional practices and exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom, and strong potential for professional and policy leadership.

The CEA Advisor sat down with Hutton for a question-and-answer session to get his thoughts on everything from successful teaching styles to education reform.

CEA Advisor: How do you feel about being the only Connecticut recipient of the Milken Educator Award this year?

DH: I am honored to receive this award. There are so many wonderful teachers in our schools across the state, and I am a bit uncomfortable to be in the spotlight. I hope to represent all great teachers across our state and bring positive press to the field of teaching and encourage bright students to go into the profession. I also hope to have the opportunity to work with more teachers across the state on efforts to reform and improve education in Connecticut.

CEA Advisor: You’ve been described as a teacher who “makes physics come alive.” How do you do that, and what is your teaching philosophy?

DH: I believe that school should be fun. I loved learning, and I want to share my love of learning with the students. I always try to make the correlation between physics and things that the students enjoy in their everyday lives, including cars, music, and sports. I always wanted to become a teacher. Growing up in Tolland, I had some very inspirational teachers who challenged me to succeed, and I wanted to do the same thing. It’s all about the kids, and they recognize when teachers care about them and want them to succeed.

CEA Advisor: You’ve been teaching for 18 years now. How have things changed from when you started out as a new teacher?

DH: It’s very hard being a new teacher. It’s been my experience that you get the toughest classes, the worst schedules, and traditionally little support. Veteran teachers have the experience and skills necessary to be successful. And these experienced teachers are the most significant factor in providing a quality education to Connecticut’s students. I’ve grown through the years, and I’m a much better teacher today than when I started my career 18 years ago, and I am still learning every day.

CEA Advisor: So what can be done to help new teachers?

DH: Providing support and mentoring for new teachers is key. That’s why TEAM (Teacher Education and Mentoring) programs are so important. Any support you can give them is helpful. I would like to see more colleagues providing regular classroom observations and offering suggestions on techniques and teaching styles that can help new teachers improve. Teachers are very busy preparing, teaching, and grading lessons, so it’s difficult to find time for reflection. Having an experienced colleague offering suggestions and ideas can really help young teachers learn and grow.

CEA Advisor: What do you think needs to be done to reform education and improve the teaching profession?

DH: Teachers are in the classrooms every day. They know what’s going on and what makes a good educator. Often, people who have never taught or have been out of the classroom for years are making decisions that impact teachers across the state. It’s critical for teachers to be involved in the reform process. Collaboration between administrators and teachers is a must. We need to work together—all parties, including parents and students. I don’t believe that evaluating teachers based on student test scores is the best way to proceed. In fact, I think it’s a poor way to evaluate teachers. We need to evaluate on performance as well as consistent and more frequent observations by supervisors and colleagues. And those observations should focus on improvement indicators. Instead of just telling teachers, ‘Here’s what’s wrong and right,’ they should provide answers for what’s wrong and suggestions for getting better. Everyone can get even better. My favorite evaluations, and I’ve had great evaluators, provided me with positive feedback and gave me ideas on how to get better. I’ve been fortunate to have had supervisors who told me what they liked and what I could do to improve. That’s how you get better.

CEA Advisor: You are involved in the Glastonbury Teachers Association and are chairman of the negotiating team. How important is it for teachers to get involved?

DH: The economy has been challenging for the past few years, and, unfortunately, public unions are under the microscope and have become scapegoats. We need to educate the public on our role and value and help them understand why it’s critical that we receive fair treatment and compensation for our profession. It’s incredibly important to protect teachers’ rights to ensure that we are getting fair treatment, but we must also continue working to make education a viable and respected profession. I worked in a private school and understand the need for unions and to be treated in a professional manner. I encourage all teachers to get involved in their local union. My philosophy is that you don’t have a right to complain unless you are willing to get involved and become an active member. It’s part of our duty to contribute in some way. There are many levels of involvement, including going to union building representative meetings, keeping up to date on issues, or writing or calling your politicians—if we all do a little, it makes it easier.

CEA Advisor: The Milken Educator Award comes with a $25,000 prize. How do you plan to use it?

DH: I have two young children, so right now the money will be put aside for their college funds.