Charles Henderson taught high school and middle school for over twenty years in Indiana and in Michigan. After a long and satisfying career, rather than retiring, Henderson took his passion for students, learning and U.S. history to the Department of Education in Washington.
Henderson’s work at the Department is, in some ways, far removed from his history teaching days. He is now an Education Program Specialist with a small team in the office of Elementary and Secondary Education, and his work is mainly concerned with awarding grants to schools and nonprofits. Yet, his experiences as a teacher serve as a valuable source of insight to his work at ED.
“As an educator, I can walk into a school district, talk to a principal or teacher and we’re talking the same language,” explained Henderson. One type of grant he typically works with involves providing funding to improve student discipline. Henderson’s years of dealing with rowdy students puts him in excellent standing to address these issues. “I understand what [teachers] mean by ‘disruptive class rooms’… I’ve been there,” said Henderson.
Before teaching, Henderson played linebacker and was an assistant coach at Western Michigan University. After college he took a job as a high school history teacher and football coach.
He spent the next 20 odd years teaching students in high school and middle school, fostering young students’ development into unique and talented adults. “Many of my students still call me, and that’s the reward – seeing them now as young men and women with their professional lives and their families. You can’t beat that as a teacher,” said Henderson. Showing off a picture of a former student’s toddler, Henderson recalled the joy of seeing the child’s mother progress from a young girl who wanted to be a doctor, to a high achieving student in high school and on to be a successful adult with children of her own. “To this day she calls once a month,” he said.
Henderson discovered his relationships with his students to be the best part of teaching, and he also holds that strong student-teacher relationships greatly facilitate learning in the classroom. “If you have a good relationship with a student then that student will not only listen to you but be able to be more focused in the class room… kids have a way of knowing if the teacher doesn’t care,” said Henderson, who also holds a masters degree in counseling.
Henderson also holds a master’s degree in education administration and a Ph.D. in public administration – he knows a lot of what he refers to as “theory.” However, it is the knowledge gained as an educator, forming close relationships with his students that make him “more sensitive to not only the teacher’s role but the student’s standpoint” as an ED employee.
Luke Ferguson, a student at Oberlin College in Ohio, was a recent intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.
Ed. Note: This is one in a series of blog posts that highlights teachers at the Department of Education who offer invaluable expertise and continue their commitment to education, the teaching profession and students.