Ask an expert - Chris Wilbur, Hinsdale Central social studies teacher
Last updated 11/6/2019 at 5:17pm | View PDF
How did teaching become a passion?
No one gets to college alone. Every student is supported along the way by some exceptional teachers - like the ones recognized each year with the University of Chicago Outstanding Educator Award.
Included in this year's class of honored educators is Chris Wilbur. Now in his 17th year at Hinsdale Central High School, Wilbur was nominated by former student Amani Mryan, now a first-year student at UC. In her nomination, Mryan spoke of Wilbur's passion and dedication to his students and to his job as an educator.
In addition to teaching classes in civics and AP government and politics, Wilbur coaches the Hinsdale Central forensics team, of which Mryan was a member.
"She was the heart and soul of the team," said Wilbur, who remember Mryan as a leader and role model for the team and for her fellow students.
Just as Mryan credits Wilbur for helping her to get where she is today, Wilbur credits Lamont Colucci, a teacher at his Wisconsin high school, with fueling his desire to become a teacher. Like Wilbur, Colucci shared his passion for the information he was teaching while also emphasizing the importance of values and morality.
"He showed me the importance of a worldview," Wilbur said.
A class about Russia and China was one of the three classes Wilbur took with Colucci. That class sparked an ongoing interest that eventually led to Wilbur's placement at Hinsdale Central.
Wilbur said a little good luck and some perfect timing led him to the job at Central - the only teaching job he's had since graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He met former Assistant Superintendent Jim Polson at a job fair on campus and learned of the school's need for Russian history teacher. Wilbur just happened to have that qualification in his teaching tool box.
"It turns out, that's why I'm here," he said. "I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be"
Students are at the center of everything he does as a teacher, said Wilbur, who added his job goes beyond teaching the contents of a textbook. He encourages his students to get involved with their community and their democracy by requiring each student in his AP government and politics class to spend eight hours shadowing someone in those fields.
"Democracy happens everywhere. It's not just in Washington, D.C.," Wilbur said.
While politics isn't an appropriate subject for the dinner table, the conversation is encouraged in Wilbur's classroom. While being careful not to share his own opinions, Wilbur said he guides student discussions about current events and issues, encouraging them to listen to other views and consider opinions that are different from their own.
"The kids come into class ready to discuss the latest events," Wilbur said, which makes keeping up on the news a vital part of his job.
Wilbur learned of his recognition as an Outstanding Educator when a letter and a paperweight arrived in the mail. It came as a pleasant surprise, and a nice reminder that the job he loves is making a difference in the students he teaches.
"It's nice to be recognized," he said.