#202 – A Life of Learning, with Paul Beckermann

Unpacking Education July 19, 2023 37 min

In this episode, we talk with Unpacking Education cohost Paul Beckermann about his teaching career and what he’s learned along the way. Paul believes, “The most successful teachers are the ones who learn a little bit every day.”

Paul also believes that teachers are amazing and that we can learn a great deal from each other. “Every single teacher does something really well,” he says, and he encourages educators to share the things they’ve learned with others, so their colleagues can also benefit from those experiences. As he reflects on his career, Paul passes on a few of the lessons he’s learned.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.

Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company


The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

Learning and Growing

Every period of life can teach us something. Throughout this episode, Paul shares his journey as an educator and some key lessons he’s learned along the way. From his childhood growing up in a large family to a career as an English teacher, library media specialist, and district digital learning specialist, he believes each experience has made him a better educator.

During our conversation, Paul highlights teaching best practices as well as personal growth he’s experienced throughout his journey. The following are a few highlights from our conversation:

  • About Our Guest: Paul Beckermann is one of the hosts of Unpacking Education from AVID Open Access, with new episodes every Wednesday. He also provides listeners with practical and actionable tech integration strategies and tool tips in episodes of Tech Talk For Teachers every Tuesday. He has more than 33 years of experience in education and has worked as a high school English teacher, library media specialist, and district digital learning specialist. His daily goals include being grateful for what he has, learning something new, passing that learning on to others, and being kind to those around him.
  • Growing Up: Paul grew up in a small town in central Minnesota, the oldest of nine children. Despite not having lots of money, he grew up in a very supportive home with high expectations, graduated from college, and has had a successful 34-year career in education.
  • Beginning Years of Teaching: Paul began his career teaching English for 16 years. During that time, he also coached swimming and advised both the school newspaper and TV news show. During those first years of teaching, Paul learned a lot. He says, “We think we know things when we graduate from college, but we don’t know anything. You had to learn from your colleagues, right? When I got there, they were some of the best teachers I ever had.”
  • Scope and Sequence: “They handed me a scope and sequence and said, ‘Here’s what you’re teaching, Paul,’ and that was invaluable to me. I knew exactly what the goalposts were . . . and I found out later, that’s not the case for everybody. . . . That put me on the right track.”
  • Early Influences: Paul was influenced early on by project-based learning (PBL) and cooperative learning. “That really shaped a lot of my early years,” he says.
  • Making It Real: Because of his early influences, Paul began all lesson and unit planning with a key question: “What do my students need to learn, and what’s the most authentic thing they can do with this content?” He adds, “I tried to make learning real at every turn.”
  • Limited Technology in the Early Years: When Paul started, there was very little technology in classrooms. His room had no phone or computer, and there was no classroom access to the internet. He was able to take advantage of an Apple IIe computer lab to give his students an early learning experience similar to a 1:1 student-to-computer learning environment.
  • What to How to Who: “When I first started teaching, I thought it was all about the “what.” I thought it was all about the content,” says Paul. As he became more experienced, he began to focus more on the “how” of teaching: how to deliver that content effectively. Ultimately, he realized that teaching was really about the “who:” the students. “That was a profound change for me,” he adds.
  • Teachers Are Amazing: Paul saw firsthand that teachers were amazing when he entered the media center and was able to see what “master teachers were doing on a daily basis” and “plan with them, co-teach with them.” He wishes all teachers were able to have this experience and learn from each other. “That is worth a hundred undergrad degrees,” he says. Paul also feels like teachers don’t give themselves enough credit and sell themselves way too short. He believes, “Every single teacher does something really well.”
  • District-Wide Perspective: According to Paul, one of the greatest benefits of holding a district-wide position was the ability to see great teachers at all grade levels, preK–12. In his role as a district digital learning specialist, he was able to connect teachers and help them share their expertise across grade levels and buildings. In this way, he worked to help improve education for all students in the district.
  • Taking a Risk: Leaving his district of 27 years, Paul and his wife took a risk by accepting new jobs in a different school district, essentially starting over. “We’re going to bet on ourselves,” he says about the transition. Although it was a bit scary, he says the experience reenergized him in his career.
  • Passions: Paul is passionate about music, photography, travel, and family. “Connecting of your passions to the things you do every day in life” is really important, he says. He encourages educators to “find what your passion is and integrate that into anything you do.”
  • Believing in Yourself: Paul is grateful for his supportive parents and family. “They always told us: ‘You can do it. You are amazing. You are smart. You are going to be successful.’ You hear that enough, it becomes reality for you.”
  • Five Big Rocks: Paul shares five big rocks from his career: standards-based backwards design, relationships, student ownership, authentic learning, and blended learning.
  • You Matter: “Teachers are amazing,” says Paul. “Every single one of you listening out there has something special to offer.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What did you learn from your childhood that helped you become a better educator?
  • What did you learn from your earliest days as an educator?
  • Who or what has helped you improve your craft as an educator?
  • When have you taken a risk as an educator, and how did that impact you?
  • What are your passions, and how can you integrate those into your work?
  • What are the five most important things you’ve learned in your career as an educator?
  • What is something that you believe you do well as an educator?

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