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Q&A with NSHSS Top 10 Educator John Carnesecca

John Carnesecca is a teacher, a coach and the Department Chair for Social Science at Great Oak High School in Temecula, CA. He is also a Claes Nobel 2014 Top 10 Educator of the Year. “Coach Carny," as he is known to his students, has earned a reputation for engaging students by prompting them to think deeply about their subject matter.

Mr. Carnesecca’s passion has had a deep impact on his students, and he has an innate ability to pass his love of education on to his students. “I teach,” he says, “the trade of teaching can be learned. The art of teaching may be inherent. As for me, I want to be the best and give my best each day. My students deserve it.”

Mr. Carnesecca recently answered some questions about his philosophy and experience to share with the NSHSS community.

Q: What inspired you to become a teacher?

A: I suspect that teaching was always in the back of my mind, and teaching high school especially. I had a great teacher in high school, Mr. McGuire whom I tried to emulate and probably, to some degree, still do. What pushed me to make my decision was the first time I held my first born son. I remember distinctly thinking, “you need to do what you want. You need to teach.” So I did the crazy thing, quit my job with a new born and went back to school.

Q: What do you love about being an educator?

A: Teaching is vital. It is dynamic. It is not static and boring and I enjoy my topic. Teenagers are at a critical moment where growth and development comes in leaps and bounds. I want to be part of that.  My life matters.

Q: What is the biggest challenge of being an educator?

A: The system. The system is complex, political, politicized, and vulnerable to waves of reform that truly make little impact except to stir the water. Teaching is fundamental. It is not complex in its basic purpose. Adults helping to grow young minds while helping to transfer a bit of knowledge. That is what it is meant to be. It is not meant to cure society’s ills in 50 minutes of class time.

Q: What is the greatest piece of advice that you have ever received?

A: Don’t let the turkeys get you down. I can remember that one statement and have replayed it in my head over and over. It was made by a person who tried to teach but was abused out of the profession.

Q: If you can give one piece of advice to incoming teachers, what would it be?

A: To be great, teaching must be a cause.  If you are doing it for other reasons, no matter what they are, then don’t. We have enough of average.

Q: What is your greatest wish for your students?

A: Growth. Be different and better than when you arrived.

Q: How has NSHSS impacted your career as an educator?

A: NSHSS celebrates the success of students but remembers that teachers facilitate that success. You are the ONLY organization that sincerely, truly, clearly celebrates the good teachers do. AND you do so with professionalism and with dignity. NO organization makes a comparable attempt to build the community of education like NSHSS for it is a community of learners and teachers that make this work.

Q: What do you see as the biggest benefit of an NSHSS membership for your students?

A: There are many. First, I have watched it grow and its influence expand. NSHSS now has true access and impact. Your partners are important and they show up to the conversation. You are funded and spend the funds on right actions. You make people feel special, and that builds a better tomorrow.