Awarding winning Athlos Academy teacher gets teens thinkingAug 05, 2021 01:14PM ● By Jet Burnham
Jim Bentz is recognized for exemplifying the Athlos Pillars of Performance: Prepared Mind, Healthy Body, and Performance Character. (Photo courtesy of Jim Bentz.)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Athlos Academy junior high language arts teacher Jim Bentz was one of three educators selected from Athlos schools nationwide to receive the Athlos Distinguished Educator Award.
“He's a very rigorous teacher who puts a lot of time and attention into making sure that students are getting a top-notch education,” said Mandy Kartchner, director of Athlos Academy charter school in Herriman.
All of Bentz’s 16 years as an educator have been spent at private and charter schools where he feels he has more freedom with his teaching methods-- because Bentz is not like most language arts teachers. He doesn’t expect students to diagram sentences, or to create an introductory sentence before they begin writing a paper or to complete digital reading comprehension assessments. He expects them to develop critical thinking skills, to glean meaning from a text and to apply what they’ve learned in other contexts.
One of his favorite tools is Socratic Circling, which is a student-led discussion.
“The nice thing about doing a Socratic Circle discussion is I'm not up there at the front of the room, telling them what they have to say,” Bentz said. “I'm right there, with my sleeves rolled up, and I'm just one of them.”
He said when a Socratic Circle takes off, a lot of learning takes place.
“Kids are bringing up new points, kids are answering questions for other kids, kids are working together,” he said. “You see the little gears turning. Kids are going into detail--and not just detail about the book--but they're making connections to their lives.”
Bentz creates opportunities for students to create connections by collaborating with other teachers. He timed his class’s study of George Orwell's “Animal Farm” to coincide with history teacher McKay Jones’s unit on the American Revolution.
“We made it work so that I'm talking about the Constitution and the amendments to the Constitution at the same time that he's talking about the Seven Rules of Animalism,” Jones said. As both topics explore the establishment of governments, the teachers stepped back and watched their students make connections between the two.
Bentz is always aware of what time period Jones is covering in his class. He will read excerpts from books in his class which support Jones’s curriculum, such as “Red Badge of Courage” during the unit on the Civil War.
“He has a catalogue of a million books in his head,” Jones said.
Jones, a teacher with just two years of experience, is impressed with Bentz’s dedication to teaching and to his students.
“He loves the kids and is dedicated to really helping them beyond just English,” Jones said. Bentz has nicknames for every student. He knows what their interests are and shows up to their games and recitals. Jones said Bentz sets high expectations for his students and then patiently helps them reach those expectations.
“Everything I do, from ongoing professional development to advocating for kids, is driven by a humble desire to see young people become smarter, better human beings,” Bentz said.
Bentz’s background is in business marketing, where he relied on reading and writing skills. When he realized that employees who were recent college graduates couldn’t be trusted to write memos or to read and comprehend contracts, he decided to become an English teacher to ensure kids develop those skills.
Bentz said his job as a teacher is similar to his job in marketing.
“I guess you could say I'm still selling,” Bentz said. “I’m still selling literature and the importance of good books. I’m still selling the absolute necessity for being able to communicate clearly in the environment and the culture that we've created here in the 21st century. But I also just enjoy my customer base more than I did in 16 years of business. At heart, I'm really just one of them.”