Teaching Coal: Educating a New Generation

By T.L. Headley, American Coal Council

What makes someone a good teacher?

One of the most common elements of excelling at something is passion for what you are doing. For a teacher that translates into passion for the subject and for the process of teaching and engaging with students. But good teaching is much more than filling the students’ minds with facts and figures. It is helping those students develop the skills to learn and to think for themselves, to ask questions, to analyze data and draw conclusions. And education may take both the teacher and the learner out of their comfort zones.

Shane Wagner has been teaching English and Language Arts at South Dearborn Middle School in his hometown of Aurora, Indiana since he graduated from Northern Kentucky University in 2014. Aurora is a small river town of about 3,000 people. It lies in the midst of the Illinois Basin coalfields.

Most of the school’s population come from middle-class or lower-income families. For many of them, there is no one at home. For some, both parents are in and out of the picture and their grandmas and grandpas are raising them, or the kids are simply raising themselves and not receiving any guidance at all. Life is not easy.

“Every minute of every day, I have to make multiple decisions concerning what I’m teaching, what they’re learning, and whether or not I’m making an impact,” Wagner said. “Juggling each student’s education, safety and social, emotional and physical welfare is exhausting, yet thoroughly rewarding. Naturally, teaching teens is a massive undertaking in the first place. Every day is a battleground of teenage angst, pushback and attitude; however, underneath that thin facade, there are young men and women hungry for knowledge. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”