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A leader in and out of the classroom

Nick Faber

“Oh Wow! Mr. Faber, come look at this!”

Such exclamations ring out nearly every day in Nick Faber’s classroom. With lesson plans devoted to experiments and investigations, the 25-year-veteran science teacher generates excitement among his students at John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School. “Kids are just naturally curious about the world,” says Faber, who makes sure his students in grades K-6 know that when they enter his classroom they can explore.

Long after they graduate from this high-poverty school located on St. Paul’s East Side, students remember Faber’s class. “I have students come back and talk to me about how much they enjoyed science here,” he says. They liked “that they didn’t just sit at a desk.” Students in urban schools tend to have fewer opportunities to learn science because so much emphasis is placed on raising test scores in reading and math. At Johnson, students are fortunate enough not only to study science but to do so with Faber.

After studying music in college, Faber decided to forgo unsteady work as a musician and pursue a more practical career as a teacher. He found elementary education rewarding and says he “fell in love with working with kids around science.”

His passion for education goes beyond the classroom. Last year, Faber helped start a project at his school, which involves having Johnson teachers visit parents in their homes for 30 to 40 minutes twice each year. Establishing better relationships with parents, discussing their hopes for their children, and sharing teachers’ expectations of students are among the project’s goals. “As a district, we’re starting to lose families to charter schools,” Faber says. “We see [the home-visit project] as beneficial to retaining kids.” Faber, who is secretary of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers as well as his school’s lead steward, says the union has helped to expand the project this year to other high-needs schools in the district.

Besides improving teacher-parent relations, Faber has also focused on strengthening the teaching profession. He helped found CareerTeacher, an alternative licensure program created by the St. Paul Federation to recruit and prepare teachers. The program was awarded one of the first AFT Innovation Fund grants in 2009.

To garner support for public education, Faber is politically active. Through the St. Paul Federation, he has engaged with reNEW Minnesota, a campaign to rally constituents and candidates around progressive issues. “We’re going to lose public education if teachers think all they have to do is come in and teach well every day,” he says, explaining his advocacy.

Faber has persuaded colleagues to follow his lead. “He’s the reason I actually got involved with the union,” says Marcus Moten, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher and Faber’s co-steward. Although Moten said little during faculty meetings, Faber told him he always thought he had something worthwhile to say and persuaded Moten to play a role in the union. Faber “saw that I was a leader here even though I didn’t see that,” Moten says. [video by Brett Sherman and Matthew Jones]