As a child, Mike Aitkenhead wanted to save the world. He just didn’t know how.
By college he figured it out: He’d be a scientist. That way he could discover an innovative technology, or unearth a dramatic new theory. Inspired, he graduated in 3 years.
During a year off to find the perfect graduate program, Mike taught field ecology to New York City public school students in an overnight environmental education program. He also substitute taught grades 6 through 12.
Teaching came naturally to Mike. Now he was truly inspired.
Yet he still felt he could change the world as a scientist. He spent 3 years in a dual Ph.D program. While the experience was intellectually stimulating, it was not inspiring.
Mike spent those 3 years thinking constantly of his time as a teacher — the impact he had on students, and the sense of accomplishment he felt each day.
He realized that he was meant to teach. His contribution to the world would come not through his discoveries, but by inspiring an army of young minds to make their own.
“I became a teacher to ‘save the world,'” Mike says. “I have never felt so fulfilled, inspired or close to my goal as I do now.”
No teacher enters education seeking personal honors. That’s good, because few ever get them.
Mike is lucky. He’s been named Westport’s Teacher of the Year, and this week he took time out from preparing his classroom and labto accept heartfelt congratulations from colleagues, students and parents.
“I’m the 1st to admit that I’m no master of teaching pedagogy,” he says. “I have so much more to learn about the teaching profession.
“But I believe deeply and passionately in what I teach. You can’t fake passion, and real passion is infectious.” He is pleased that students and colleagues recognize his passion — and his efforts to turn passion into action.
Mike teaches Advanced Placement Environmental Education at Staples. Mike believes every student at Stales should have some exposure to the important topic he teaches. He’s doing his part: In the 3 years since he took over AP Environmental, it has gone from 3 sections to 7.
Mike is inspired by more than numbers. He is heartened to see his students take an active role in environmental issues — whether at Staples or in the Westport community. He also is inspired to hear students tell him they’ll study the subject in college. Some even major in it.
“I feel that students leave my class with the honest belief that their actions can make a difference in the world,” he says. “I can think of no greater accomplishment than that.”