Photo of Brooks Blakeley

Brooks Blakeley knows exactly the type of middle school teacher he wants to be: a motivator.

Not every student can be an “A” student or even a “B” student, and that’s OK, he says. “It’s not about your grade or achievement, it’s about the effort you put in every single day.”

Blakeley, a middle childhood education major who graduates in May, doesn’t only give lip service to the importance of putting in the effort; he lives it.

At ONU, he’s a stellar athlete on the cross-country team and president of the campus chapter of Teachers of Tomorrow. And, during his final semester at ONU, he didn’t just student teach, he opted to take on more responsibility, serving as the long-term substitute for his cooperating teacher who went on maternity leave.

For 12 weeks, he taught 8th grade science at Van Buren Middle School in Van Buren, Ohio. The sole teacher in the classroom, he assumed complete accountability for the classes, from lesson plans to classroom management, grading to parent communication.

“I viewed it as an opportunity to get my feet wet before jumping into a full-time position after graduation,” he says.

His readiness to step into a teaching role before graduating with his teaching license is a testament to the excellent preparation he received from ONU’s Center for Teaching Excellence.

In Ohio, and across the U.S., school systems are facing a severe shortage of qualified teaching staff and substitutes. Contributing to the problem is that many schools are dealing with a student population with behavioral issues, social/emotional struggles, and learning delays stemming from the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blakeley recognizes the challenges facing his chosen profession, but is not daunted by them. His attitude is “put me in.”

“We’ve talked in my ONU classes about the regression in learning and the impact of the pandemic and remote learning on education,” he says. “But for me, moving forward, I see it as a challenge to overcome. It’s just a wonderful opportunity to make an impact.”

Teaching is in Blakeley’s blood. Both his mom and dad, as well as several aunts and uncles, are teachers. But it was ONU alumnus Gregg Niekamp, BA ’93, Blakeley’s mathematics teacher at Versailles High School in Versailles, Ohio, who inspired him to become a teacher.

“Mr. Niekamp had high expectations for us,” explained Blakeley, “and he applauded students who gave their best, even if their best only put them in the middle of the pack.”

Blakeley says he is modeling his teaching style after Niekamp. He, too, wants to be a champion who encourages each student in his class to perform at the highest level, while also being sensitive to the hurdles and obstacles that some students face.

Blakeley has also learned invaluable lessons from his ONU education professors. They helped him navigate his spring semester of full-time teaching at Van Buren by being available day and night to respond to his questions and concerns. Early on, when some students in his class were “testing the sub,” his ONU professors mentored him on how to set classroom expectations and be firm on following through.

“I have my ONU professors’ phone numbers. They are not there for the paycheck; they are there because they want students to succeed. It has been awesome to be part of that kind of community and to learn from teachers who love what they do.”