Brit Satchwell: Tappan Middle School social studies teacher


Brit Satchwell, in his Tappan Middle School classroom. Photo by Jo Mathis.
Brit Satchwell, in his Tappan Middle School classroom. Photo by Jo Mathis.

Before becoming a teacher, Brit Satchwell spent about five years working on Great Lakes ore freighters.  He says it was constant work, like driving a 600 foot truck slowly over slick ice.  He saw a mix of breathtaking beauty on the lakes and hellish pounding industrial landscapes.

Now Satchwell teaches sixth and seventh grade students at Tappan Middle School about history and geography.  He’s worked in Ann Arbor Public Schools for 16 years.

Satchwell has a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University and a master’s degree from Marygrove College.

What led you to a career in teaching and specifically focusing on middle school students? I was always a political guy, up and active on social issues.  I finally realized that the way to work all of the issues was to help foster good thinking.  Rely on an educated community and then trust that things would eventually work out.  So I chose teaching as a career change at age forty.  I student taught in elementary and thought I’d shoot for 4th or 5th, but after I landed a long term sub job at Forsythe with 6th graders, I knew I’d found home.  6th graders are the most charmed beings on the planet: aching to please, unabashedly enthusiastic and ready to go, kind and caring, curious, not too “cool” yet to be genuinely cool.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of teaching?  Teachers of young children get to bask on a daily basis in their good heartedness, but don’t get a lot of immediate gratification in terms of scaling academic peaks.  Education is a slow and steady process that takes time to yield major results.  Progress is incremental.  But often students or parents will circle back years afterward and it’s an absolute thrill to see all that students have accomplished in academia or the workplace.

What are the biggest challenges in teaching today?  Putting up with the futility of trying to gauge quality and progress through standardized testing.  The insatiable thirst of lunkheaded policy makers for what they think are accountability measures when they are actually getting no read whatsoever on the system astounds me.  It’s as if they are looking at a car’s speedometer to see how loud the radio is playing.  AND it takes an inordinate amount of time away from actual teaching and learning.  Don’t get me started…

What advice would you give to students considering becoming a teacher or someone just entering the profession?  If you are at all inclined towards public service, you could do a lot worse than to be a teacher.  If you can, teach in Finland.  I’m kidding… learn about Finland’s educational system and get political about it here.  They value teachers by setting high standards and paying accordingly, and teachers are given great leeway in their methods.  Their success speaks volumes, year after year but American policy makers weaned on a culture of competition (test scores) can’t read Finnish even after it’s been translated into English.  Be an agent of change within the system.

What are the most important things a parent can do to help a teacher get the most out of a student?  Become the teacher’s ally from the first day of school.  Build a friendly rapport with the teacher and then don’t wait for the teacher to contact you when there is trouble.  Initiate periodic check-ins, ask the teacher what you can do to support her/him from home, give the teacher friendly tips on what works with your child.
What’s one of your most memorable moments or funniest things that has happened in your classroom?  This is actually sort of inappropriate, but it was funny in a sick sort of way.  When I give a test, I always take a quick verbal poll:  Were the questions fair and expected (thumbs up) or surprises (thumbs down)?  Was the test easy (thumbs up) or hard (thumbs down)?  When I once asked this second question, one kid way in the back was giving me what I thought was a thumbs up, only he was using his middle finger and he looked really mad.  I almost cracked up, but grabbed my stern demeanor and had a chat with him in the hall.  The gutsiest little 6th grader I’ve ever seen.
What do you do in your free-time to recharge and relax?  Hang with my wife, Stephanie; walk my dog Jasper in the woods; cook exotic meals; travel off the beaten path; use power tools around the house.
-Andrew Cluley

Communications Specialist

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  1. My son has had the honor of having Mr.Satchwell for both 6th and 7th grade. Not only does Mr. Satchwell teach the content of his course, he teaches students how to identify relevance in what they’re learning, and to explore with an open mind. He puts to use modern teaching tools (check out everything available to students on his amazing website) while requiring traditional student skills like how to take notes on a consistent basis. A true gem of a teacher!

  2. Congratulations, Mr. Satchwell, for articulating the thoughts of every teacher (except perhaps, for the one hired by the Mackinac Center). From the sounds of it, you know your students well and they are most fortunate to have not only an excellent mentor, but passionate advocate. I hope to see change in the test crazy society in my lifetime. I will continue to be the nails-on-the-chalkboard voice to every legislator I encounter. I will continue to advocate for my special education students particularly in regard to the incredible amount of lost instruction time. I thank you for setting the standard. Keep up the good work!

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