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Scholastic Kids Press Corps
The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a team of about 50 Kid Reporters around the nation.  The interactive site brings daily news to life with reporting for kids, by kids.
Darlene McCampbell, Education Secretary Arne Duncan's favorite teacher English teacher Darlene McCampbell learned from Scholastic Kid Reporter Michael Geheren that she is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's favorite teacher. Geheren interviewed McCampbell in her home in August 2009. (Photo Courtesy Michael Geheren)

Top Educator's Top Teacher

Sec. of Ed's favorite teacher has advice on student success

By Michael Geheren | null null , null

As you prepare for back to school, now might be a good time to ask yourself: what does it take to be a successful student?

In researching the answer to this question, the Scholastic Kids Press Corps asked a very special teacher, Darlene McCampbell of Chicago, Illinois, what she looks for in a student.

McCampbell teaches high school English at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools or UCLS. She has also authored two books: Leaving Home and Bearing Witness: Stories of the Holocaust.

Although she didn’t know it before this interview, she is special because she is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's all-time favorite teacher—after his parents that is.

"Ms. McCampbell was a wonderful teacher," Secretary Duncan told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps in an earlier interview. "She really challenged me and pushed me further than I thought I could go. And having those teachers who really believe in you and stretch you are critically important."

Duncan graduated from UCLS in 1982. McCampbell remembers him well.

"It is a great honor," she said as she began to remember the Secretary of Education in high school. "He was a serious student and that was even when sometimes the other kids weren't."

One story she recalled was about how he helped a fellow student get through her Shakespeare course. "She told me she would not have been able to pass it without his help," McCampbell said. "I didn't know he was helping her the whole time, he did it with such grace and discretion. I think that is a tribute to him. We are lucky to have someone with those values as a secretary of education."

So what does make a good student? McCampbell says it's all about learning to get the most of every assignment.

"One of the defining qualities is for a student to not feel forced to do something," she said. "It's to take something they have to do and turn it into something they want to do. That way the assignment serves the student."

As an example, McCampbell talked about a student who had trouble writing a coherent paper and had come to her office for a conference. As they worked on the paper, McCampbell told her, "You can do this." The student started to cry because, she said, no one had ever told her that before.

"That's a problem for so many students—believing that they can't," she said. "Getting things into manageable steps so they know they CAN is important."

The 30-year teaching veteran also had some advice for Sec. Duncan as he works to improve the nation’s education system.

"Find teachers who are passionate about what they do," she said. "Give them some free reign so teachers can be creative in their field."

She also extended a little personal advice to the Secretary of Education—advice we can all use as the first day of school approaches.

"Be yourself and trust yourself," she said.

See Secretary Duncan's video interview with Scholastic Kids Press Corps reporter Madison Hartke-Weber. You can also check out her blog post about the interview.

About the Author

Michael Geheren is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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