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Effingham Instructor of Technology honored as 2006-07 Illinois Teacher of the Year

DECATUR -- Joe Fatheree began his teaching profession in 1990 as an English teacher at Effingham High School. In 1994 he became a history teacher and then in 2000 Joe accepted the position of technology instructor. On Saturday night, Joe became the 2006-2007 Illinois Teacher of the Year during the 32nd annual Those Who Excel banquet.

Growing-up in an impoverished community in Southern Illinois, Joe Fatheree didn’t share the majority belief that education was a hindrance to earning a living. Joe said that a teacher helped him understand that education was a source of self-improvement. Because of this teacher, Joe said he was inspired to believe in people and to help other people achieve a sense of self worth. This belief has become Joe Fatheree’s personal mantra and one that he instills in his students.

Principal Mike McCollum says that Joe has a unique ability to teach any and all levels of students: “he goes out of his way to recruit students of varied learning abilities for his program. He has a way of bringing out the best qualities in all his students and helps them do the same for other students.”

“Joe’s passion and commitment shine through in his teaching and the way he lives his life outside of the classroom,” said State Superintendent of Education Randy Dunn. “You can’t help but be impressed, and inspired, by all that he has accomplished both in the classroom and within the community at large.”

Three years ago Joe started a program that exemplifies his passion for helping students become successful learners and citizens. The “No Barriers Project-creating opportunity through education” was designed to help students understand how extreme poverty impacts student success. His first effort was recruiting a group of students to pilot a poverty literacy program. During the program’s first year, students collected over 2500 coats for homeless children living in the St. Louis Area. In the second year, the students collected over 4000 books and partnered with KCET, a PBS station in St. Louis, to find a literacy expert to take the books into homes of disenfranchised children to help them improve their reading skills. He also formed a partnership with a school in East St. Louis. His students are strengthening their skills by teaching visual story telling skills to the students from East St. Louis.

Now in its third year, students from both schools are working cooperatively to develop media projects. Students participating in this program are learning much both academically and socially by gaining insight into other cultures and breaking down the barriers of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

He is equally as impassioned in the classroom as he guides his students on the journey of learning. Joe talks about when he began teaching he used the lecture style but it didn’t take him long to realize that he wasn’t reaching his students so he talked to them. He was surprised by their level of frustration and vowed then and there to change things, and change he did. His students starting reading plays, writing rap music and playing it on guitars, as well as breaking down grammatical sentence structures, his students were learning, attendance increased, grades soared, and discipline problems diminished.

Joe realized he was onto something very good.

He has carried these experiences, and many, many more, with him as his teaching career has evolved. Today his accomplishments are numerous and many of his students have succeeded far beyond their own beliefs. Fatheree truly leads by example and his students are eager to follow.

Joe holds a history degree from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in Educational Administration.

As Illinois Teacher of the Year, Joe will have the opportunity to take some time off from teaching. He will spend the 2007 spring semester speaking at teacher workshops, educational conferences, and civic and community meetings. Joe will receive a lifetime tuition waiver to state universities and a one-semester paid leave to pursue coursework or develop an educational project that will benefit students statewide. In addition, Fatheree will represent Illinois at the NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama and in the National Teacher of the Year program sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers, Scholastic, Inc., and ING. In addition, Joe will receive products and services from Motorola and SMART, Technologies.

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777