Educator Spotlight: WSCC’s Professor Sean Henne. 

March 13, 2022

Educator Spotlight: WSCC’s Professor Sean Henne. 

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, Staff Writer.

Educator Spotlight is a presentation of is a presentation of Smith & Eddy Insurance, with offices in Scottville and Manistee, offering discounts for MEA members and school employees.

VICTORY TOWNSHIP – Education has been in the blood of West Shore Community College professor Sean Henne his entire life. Henne teaches English courses at WSCC, but he has much more experience under his belt than just education at the college level.

“Teaching is a huge part of my family,” Henne said. “My mother is a teacher as are six of my uncles and aunts and dozens of my cousins. Stories about teaching were a part of every family gathering (and we had lots of those) and a part of many, many dinner conversations. It just was all around me. I didn’t plan on teaching myself, originally, because I was very into scholarship, but I ended up teaching in a Catholic high school while my wife was finishing her graduate degree. I was hooked at that point, because of both the exhilaration I had when things went well and because of my intense frustration when they didn’t. I wanted to do it better, so I went to graduate school at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for that purpose, making my life about teaching. I’ve had a teaching job every year since 1992. I have taught every grade from six to 12th as well as both undergraduates and graduate students at the college level. A very long time ago I worked in landscaping and food service, and briefly on an assembly line, but mostly I’ve just taught.”

With around 30 years of educating others and having all those different teaching experiences, Henne is in his 20th year at WSCC and his courses are made up of English classes and education classes. Henne said he loves both disciplines, but goes about teaching them in very different ways.

“I started work at WSCC in 2002, so this is my 20th year at the college, he said. “I teach in two disciplines, English and education, and value them differently. Teaching English for me is about helping students find both creative and useful ways to express themselves and communicate their ideas. A lot of that happens after we’ve looked at the ways other folks have effectively and creatively communicated, and I take tremendous delight in introducing students to lovely or provocative means of expression. 

“But teaching students how to teach is so important, too. The biggest difference between me as a teacher in 2002 and me as a teacher in 2022 is that I have a much better handle on the reasons students struggle than I did then. I know about the allostatic load that my students bear because of structural inequalities, and I know, albeit not enough, about how to teach them resilience, and about how to give them access to experiences and opportunities that can help close the brutal gaps. Good teaching is about actually caring enough to teach everyone, which ultimately also means not, ever, treating them ‘all the same.’ What I try to do in my education classes is, most of all, communicate these realities.”

Henne said a lot of his previous students have gone on to do great things, but a lot of his students have struggled to balance life, work and school, creating a lot of mental health issues. There are some things he’d love to see change in education to assist students with their personal hardships, but also educate individuals about teaching itself and how if everyone could support each other more, many of these issues could lessen.

“I have lost too many students over the years to suicide, drug overdoses, and violence, and now to COVID as well,” he said. “I also have had many students quit or withdraw because of poverty life issues, domestic violence, transportation challenges, mental health concerns. I don’t think you can every fully recover from any one event like this, so a bunch of them in a career adds up to a really challenging condition. 

“I have learned to cultivate sources of strength and to make working on these kinds of issues part of my curricula. But I’m afraid that too many folks don’t get the challenge of teaching and don’t see the absolute heroism that I see very day from my colleagues and from teachers working in schools of all sorts. If I would change anything about my field it is to reengineer attitudes toward the profession so that communities, administrations, governing bodies are more invested in and focused on actually helping and supporting teaching and learning.”

Valuing education is one part of the equation, but working together as a collaborative team in education also plays a huge role in getting people to understand what really goes on in the educational world at any grade level. Henne said his time at WSCC wouldn’t be so enjoyable if he didn’t have co-workers that cared as much about education as he does.

“I dearly love and admire my colleagues at WSCC, and I’m also deeply gratified that many of my former students are now good teachers in both the narrowest and broadest sense of that word,” Henne said. “I think that many of them are better than I am at reaching students and inspiring change in their communities. I am passionate about the discussions in my English classes, greatly enjoy reading good student work, and delight in helping students appreciate reading, but it matters most to me that some of my former students are now having real impacts in the world post-WSCC. 

“WSCC is the place where I feel best equipped to do something, even if it’s a very little thing, to make a difference in a broken world. I have taught in Boston and Ann Arbor, for instance, and even in Ireland and a New England prep school, and although I enjoyed those experiences, they weren’t as real for me as the work I did with my high school students in central Wisconsin or am doing with my WSCC students now. Here I think the kind of work I do really matters in ways it just can’t elsewhere.”

Without the support of his colleagues, Henne said a lot of what happens in education wouldn’t be able to happen. Supporting his co-workers and having that support in return really makes things happen and he stated that those looking to pursue education as a career need to understand everything that comes with the job.

“You have to go into it with your eyes open,” he said. “This job is incredibly hard at times, and can even be traumatic, but truly excellent people do it. You have to learn to rely on each other to make it possible to make the differences that matter.”

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