State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang announced today that Topher Kandik, a nine-year teacher at The SEED School of Washington, D.C. (SEED DC), is the 2016 District of Columbia Teacher of the Year!
Over the last nine years, Mr. Kandik has stoked the passion of hundreds of SEED students in his English classes by turning the city—and the country—into his classroom. Mr. Kandik has tapped into the rich resources available in DC to integrate the arts into his curriculum. He has brought students to the White House for poetry workshops; through a partnership with the local literary advocacy organization 826DC, Mr. Kandik’s students have had their original short stories and poems published. Through the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program, Mr. Kandik’s students have welcomed several MacArthur Geniuses into their classroom to discuss their work. Mr. Kandik has also built partnerships in his own hallway, ensuring that his own curriculum aligns with the lessons being taught in other subjects.
A constant in Mr. Kandik’s work is the value he places on his students’ voices and opinions: “I value their voice on what they think is important. Often, students don’t value their ideas. I want them to figure out their own voice.” Mr. Kandik’s Why New Orleans Matters unit exemplifies this philosophy. After designing a curriculum to compare and contrast low-income communities in New Orleans and D.C., Mr. Kandik followed his students’ lead as they pitched school leadership for permission to plan a capstone field trip to New Orleans. Students—by their own design— researched relevant places to visit, crafted budgets, and executed fundraising plans. “It was everything I loved about education,” he later reflected.
Teaching is Mr. Kandik’s second career, but his former position as an arts fundraiser has helped him succeed in his classroom. As he says, “the experience I had fundraising has paid off in a way that makes me a better teacher. Those skills—organization, time management—all translate.”
Mr. Kandik’s teaching skills have translated to exceptional student outcomes. According to Dr. Manuel, SEED DC’s head of school, “what makes Mr. Kandik’s classroom special isn’t just that his students score above average on state assessments….it’s that his students develop a real joy for learning and intellectual engagement that will help them become not just strong students, but intelligent and engaged adults.”
Lesley Poole, CEO of The SEED Foundation, adds: “This wonderful recognition is a byproduct of Mr. Kandik’s work, his effort, and his commitment to excellence. His success means that young people in DC have the opportunity to become better students and more thoughtful people. It means that our children win.”
On behalf of every student who has learned under Mr. Kandik and every teacher who has worked alongside him, we are very, very grateful to Mr. Kandik and to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) for shedding a much-deserved spotlight on this exceptional teacher.