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School of Kinesiology and Recreation alum Scott Todnem wins 2019 National Health Teacher of the Year award

Health sciences alum Scott Todnem wins 2019 National Teacher of the Year award and his students pose with the words Do Good and Be Kind on a sign

Scott Todnem and his students

School of Kinesiology and Recreation alum Scott Todnem’s experience with kids can be traced back to his Illinois State days when he worked as a camp counselor. His parents both being educators had a positive impact on Todnem’s outlook on education. Today, Todnem teaches health education to middle schoolers and has been recognized for being outstanding. In addition to receiving the 2019 National Health Teacher of the Year award, he recently authored a book Growing Up Great, which has garnered positive feedback online and offline. In an interview with the College of Applied Science and Technology, Todnem shared his career journey and has some advice for students interested in being successful educators.

Sharing his passion for teaching, he said, “Adolescents need up-to-date content on pressing issues like diversity and social justice, mindfulness and stress management, sleep and eating habits, gender, and sexual wellness, substance use, environmental issues, and navigating screens and social media. Health Educators need to have a pulse on world affairs—we’re on the front line, so to speak, of trauma-informed teaching, social-emotional learning, equity and inclusion for race, ability, and LGBTQ+ issues, and just higher-level thinking in general. Conversations even become philosophical at times. It is now a life passion I’m happy to share.”

Q: You’re a remarkable teacher who goes above and beyond. Tell us about your teaching journey, how long have you been teaching? What inspired you to teach?

A: I have been teaching Health Education at Scullen Middle School in Naperville, Illinois since 2001. I see students every day for nine-week quarters in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. Eventually, I’ll have every student that comes through the school. We hover between 1000 and 1200 students each year.

Growing up, I was active in athletics but had other varied interests like writing and music. I initially began college thinking I’d get into exercise science, but I was also interested in physics and sociology. At that time, I was fortunate to start working with kids as a camp counselor and really liked that, so I switched over to physical education and health. My parents were both educators and that also had a positive influence on my upbringing and outlook on school.

I think my varied interests really played into me eventually settling into teaching health education. Health is so multidimensional—it has evolved to be an all-encompassing curriculum for life. Physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being are ever-present. Health ed is now much more than typical content lessons of decades past; skills-based health education includes life skills like decision making, communication, self-management, and advocacy.

I am lucky to be able to try new things in the classroom each year and learn from my students. I’m especially proud of providing additional platforms for them to share their voice—we run a classroom YouTube channel and podcast for students to practice 21st-century skills like collaboration and creativity.

Scott Todnem published a book for adolescent boys- Growing Up GreatQ: You recently published a book Growing Up Great, which has garnered positive comments. What’s the story behind the book?

A: This past year, I was honored with the task of writing Growing Up Great. The publisher reached out to me after having tremendous success with a puberty book for girls by the wonderful Sonya Renee Taylor, titled Celebrate Your Body. There was a need for a similar book for boys and I was happy to fill that void. What I do in the health classroom is very gender-neutral and inclusive, but there are parents and young people specifically searching for a puberty book to answer questions and provide guidance for people growing up and identifying as boys. It is written towards the adolescent boy, ages 9-14+.

It involved lots of late nights and early mornings but I’m very proud to put it out the world and humbled with the positive feedback. I didn’t expect to be emotional upon release this past summer, but I certainly was. I put some major time and effort into it, and I hope it reaches its readers and serves as a go-to resource for boys and caretakers to bridge conversations about puberty and adolescence. I look forward to more writing and continued work in speaking as well.

Q: We’re always so #Redbird Proud of our alumni! Tell about your time at ISU. What did you enjoy? What do you miss the most? Did ISU have a part to play in your current career?

A: Thinking back to my years at Illinois State, I remember the fun times with friends balanced with a solid foundation for teaching success. The clinical experiences of getting in front of students during my ISU days provided some of the best preparation for the real world of teaching. The diverse courses offered as well as the blend of students to connect with all play into my appreciation of the many avenues to take in life.

Scott Todnem posing in his classroom

Scott Todnem

I miss the freedom of college days, of course, compared to the busy life that would lay ahead. I am so thankful for all the friendships that I made and continue to keep. The social experiences of heading to a basketball game, catching a local music show, playing intramural sports, or just hanging out with friends will always be the memories I cherish.

Q: What’s your advice to students who would love to follow your career path?

A: First, if someone wants to get into teaching, I wholeheartedly say go for it. Don’t let stories of negativity or lack of pay deter you from following your passion. Once started, just be yourself! There are always people giving recommendations on how to teach. That’s great, but many of those things have worked for them. For instance, we always hear how teachers should start the school year tough—they can always ease up later. That’s nonsense. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t be afraid of failure. Mistakes teach us one way that didn’t work. Be authentic and fail forward.

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