Meet Mr. O’Connor

Alex Senaldi, Student Writer

Mr. O’Connor, U.S. and World History teacher at SRV has continued to make an impact on student lives on campus as a positive and influential role model. After being a long term sub for a sophomore English class just two years ago, Mr. O’Connor began teaching Economics and World history this past year.

Mr. O’Connor’s teaching style differs from many other history teachers here on campus. He emphasizes Project Based learning (PBL), a student and project based style that allows students to work together on projects assigned with very little instruction. Students are encouraged to ask questions (aka the process of inquiry) as O’Connor believes, “we should be giving them the Q’s not the answers, then testing on exam.” PBL also means no tests!  Students are graded based upon their projects, and the products that those projects accumulate. The reasoning behind this is to motivate students to take control over their learning and ask questions to better understand why they are doing what they are doing and why the material is relevant.

Mr. O’Connor was inspired to teach this way through the first job of his teaching career. He worked with 6 other new teachers, all who had just came out of grad school – fresh with new ideas and burning passions to teach. These teachers collaborated to create projects which would keep students engaged and as well as teach in a non traditional way.

His goal through PBL is for students to partake in their learning and prepare for real-life situations after high school. Mr. O’Connor  expressed, “I want people to think for themselves and I want them to be wrong and get used to failure and then try it again.” He does so by constantly calling on different students, pushing them to answer his questions and make guesses or attempt to solve a problem.

Mr. O’Connor often expresses his extreme dislike of cliques in the classroom. In order to combat them, he directs students to stand up and talk to a new partner everyday of class. His reasoning for this: teaching social skills. O’Connor explains, “We’re dealing with people, we should be teaching them social skills, we should be showing people ‘hey you need to talk about your frustrations and your feelings and let them out there.’” Accordingly, many of his projects require activities outside of class. Some of these include raising awareness about certain topics or interviewing people on their beliefs about specific issues.

Because of his ever-changing projects, Mr. O’Connor is big on feedback. He enjoys learning what went right and what went wrong through the student’s eyes. After each project, he organizes the class into a community circle, where students discuss their likes and dislikes about the project so he can make adjustments and improve in the future.

In order to share his thoughts on education, this year Mr. O’Connor has started a blog which discusses some of his projects he has created, along with opinion-based pieces where he conveys his views on the education system today. “Looking at the state of what’s going on in this world and this country,” he explains, “I started the blog out of frustration, to be honest, and I needed to get things out.” He even wrote his first two articles in one day! His goal is to connect with teachers outside of San Ramon Valley High School, as well as the parents of his students.