David O’Connor was born and raised on the Bad River strip of the Lake Superior tribe from the Chippewa Reservation on the south shore of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin.
“My very first formal education began at the Bad River Tribe Head Start,” he said, where he trained at a community center, his neighbor was his bus driver, and the bus driver’s wife was O’Connor’s teacher, as well as a number of other neighbors. and members of the O’Connor family.
“It just said a lot to me. It was so cool to see the elders in our community come and teach us different things, share stories and gain hands-on experience. It made it more real – not just what you got from the book. ”
O’Connor, who now lives on the North Side of Madison, has worked for nearly ten years as a consultant on the study of American Indians in the Wisconsin Department of Public Education. At DPI, he assists in the implementation of curricula in schools across the state in the history of Native American history, culture, and tribal sovereignty, often referred to as the Wisconsin Act.
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His work with schools, libraries and others is aimed at providing opportunities for teaching, developing and disseminating materials, as well as advising on issues related to the study of American Indians and the education of Native American students, according to DPI.
Recently, the National Indian Association of Education named him Teacher of the Year (out of class) for his work in educating Wisconsin residents on the history and culture of local people.
Can you tell us a little more about how you work with school districts to meet the curriculum requirements of Native American history and culture?
In most cases, when I work with educators, many of them come with prior knowledge that can be considered misinformation or misleading. I try to get them to a place where they can unpack what they know. The next thing they need to do is relearn the content – it’s a long process.
I also provide learning opportunities for people with over 100 workouts per year. I speak at various conferences and seminars across the state and have represented nationally in a variety of research areas.
I also had the opportunity to develop and distribute materials. For example, one of the resources I helped develop with PBS Wisconsin was a map called the Current Tribal Lands Map and Indigenous Facts, specifically about Wisconsin. We work with tribal nations in our state to make sure the information we have posted on the map is accurate.
What happened when you found out you were named Teacher of the Year (out of class) by the National Indian Education Association?
You have to be nominated by someone who is affiliated with NIEA, and I was nominated by two different people I worked with in two different roles. Honestly, I had the honor of being nominated or thought of.
Community members from across the country who are affiliated with the NIEA participated in the selection process. I thought just being nominated was really cool. I said, “Okay, I’m looking forward to who wins, it’s going to be really great,” and suddenly I get a letter saying, “You were elected by the committee as NIEA Teacher of the Year.” First I said, “There must have been another David O’Connor,” then I said, “Wow, that’s weird.” I was humiliated by all the experience.
The convention was in October in Omaha, Nebraska, and I had the opportunity to go there and get the award. It was an amazing experience when colleagues and other people you look at praised you for your work. It was very humiliating.
One thing I want to repeat is this work – a tribute to all the educational partners with whom I had the opportunity to work. The award may be my name, but I attribute it to everyone I worked with.
Do you have anecdotes from time spent as a teacher for students?
I always tell students – and adults who work with them as educators – we need to stop asking our students to consider themselves leaders of tomorrow. They are already leaders. They do it every day. Many of our youth are in many communities – they are now leaders in various fields. I say to the students: thank you for being leaders now. Thank you for taking on a role that can sometimes be challenging or overwhelming.
I also try to motivate them to share their stories. Sharing your story is one of the most powerful things in the world, and no one can take it away from them. I try to push students to a place where they can think about the next chapter of their history.
The theme of the October NIEA conference was “People’s Control over Native Education: Time to Rule”. Can you share how this topic coincides with your work?
National government, for example, goes back to what I said about history – if we are going to learn about the history and culture of our sovereign nations, who better to tell it than the people themselves? These are their experiences. I want members of the community of our nations, historians and language conservationists to take part in this work.
I always strive to develop educational programs around native culture. I want to make a difference in the lives of our students, our families, our communities across the state and across the country. Every day I think what will happen next: what training do you need to go through and what opportunities are there?
After all, I just want to be sure that I can promote the work in the best way: new trainings, work on articles that can be used by teachers, expanding programming through community support and partnerships in education.