Sean McComb vividly remembers the moment a teacher changed his life forever. Raised by a single, alcoholic mother, McComb was 15 and a high school sophomore when he began spending long stretches after class at the school television station to escape a difficult life at home. Working until 8 or 9 p.m., he grew close to the station’s charismatic faculty supervisor, Brian Reagan, a young teacher who ultimately became the adult role model McComb never had. “Mr. Reagan was so happy, so joyous,” McComb recalls. “He made me feel valued, believed in, and capable. And I felt compelled to go do that for other kids.”
I tell kids that I’m their teammate, and that they can make it.
Today, Mr. Reagan would be proud: Last April, McComb, 31, became one of the youngest teachers ever to be named the National Teacher of the Year. “I tell kids that I’m their teammate, and that they can make it,” says the language arts teacher from Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, located in the working class Baltimore suburb of Dundalk, Md. At Patapsco, McComb is beloved for his energetic teaching style and his selfless commitment to kids. In the past, he’s given clothes, school supplies, and groceries to students who can’t afford them. “Even after high school, I know he’ll always be there to help me out,” says McComb’s former pupil, Austin Brauer, 18.
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While a great educator can help put a child on the path to success, parents play an important role, too, says McComb. Here’s his advice for cultivating positive relationships with your kids’ teachers:
“Some of the best conversations I’ve had are where the parent starts out, ‘I know my daughter, and I know she’s likely struggling here. What can we do about it?’” he says.
Help Them Help Your Child
“To have a parent come in and say, ‘My child really responds to this, this doesn’t work for them, and they’re really interested in this’—that’s gold for a teacher,” says McComb.
Stay Open To Constructive Criticism
“A conference where I have to defend every point taken off of an essay—that’s not something I look forward to,” says McComb. “But if I can turn that conference into [showing] how we can work together, that’s really powerful.”
McComb recommends a free texting app called Remind that allows teachers to communicate with students and parents without having to know their personal cell phone numbers.