For Michael Bonner, a 2nd grade teacher in Greenville, NC, being an educator goes beyond simply teaching children.
It involves connecting with them on a personal level, making learning exciting, and helping them broaden their perspectives on life to pursue their dreams
Bonner’s passion for teaching is changing lives nationwide by inspiring educators to use innovative strategies in helping students learn.
Born in Edenton, NC, and raised in Perquimans County, Bonner and his four siblings were taught the importance of education from early childhood. Initially enrolling at Winston Salem State University on a basketball scholarship, during his sophomore year he transferred to Elizabeth City State University to be closer to home.
His interest in teaching elementary school students was sparked during one of his college classes.
“I learned in human development and psychology that the brain is very malleable from infancy to 3 years old and I knew that if I worked in the elementary bracket I would be able to make a larger imprint on them about what they could be,” Bonner said.
While many of Bonner’s students live in economically-challenged circumstances, he sees great potential in each one.
“The school is a gem because despite the circumstances that the students may have, they are able to achieve greatness even with the resistance that is on them” he said.
“Pass the energy” is a favorite tactic to help his students understand that yesterday is in the past and today is a new opportunity. Each morning, he asks the students if they had a good or a bad night before coming to school. Then they “pass the energy” by completing different tasks, such as, doing their classroom handshake, telling two or three people something they like about them, or telling two friends that they love them.
Even though he is the teacher, Michael Bonner says his students have taught him invaluable lessons, such as the importance of accountability. Through their innocence, they constantly remind Bonner that there is always good in the world.
“Sometimes the students serve as a mirror,” he said. “By showing you your strengths as well as your weaknesses, they are capable of revealing who you really are.”
Although his students at South Greenville Elementary come from distinct backgrounds, they share a love for hip hop music, which has allowed them to bond with one another despite their differences.
Integrating music into his lessons increased students’ participation, Bonner found. It also, unintentionally, made him a media star.
In 2017, a video of Bonner’s students singing as part of their lesson went viral, catching the attention of a television producer and resulting in two appearances by Bonner on The Ellen Show.
A contribution from the show enabled the school to renovate some classrooms, upgrade teaching equipment, purchase more materials for the media center and provide professional-development opportunities for teachers.
While Bonner hopes to serve as a role model for all of his students, he especially tries to challenge young African-American boys to not simply see themselves as a potential rapper or athlete but to open their minds and imaginations to all the possibilities which education bring.
“Even though these children have circumstances that they cannot control it doesn’t mean that they can’t be successful,” he said. “It’s up to you to decide what you want your success to look like.”
In 2017, Bonner received Teacher of the Year at South Greenville Elementary. Barry White, Jr., a fellow teacher presented him with the African American for Black Higher Education Award. Bonner received the HBCU Male Alumnus Award from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) and was also honored with “Michael Bonner Day” in Perquimans County on February 10, 2018.
By Taylor Miller