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These educators teach outside the box

Teachers help shape our kids, but some teachers go above and beyond to bring classroom lessons to life and make a real difference in their students’ lives.

You’ve heard of thinking outside the box, right? Well, these educators teach outside of the box, using their own backgrounds and experiences to give their lessons a new, appealing breath of life. Office Depot helps celebrate special teachers that make a difference with their digital campaign #TeachersChangeLives. So Can You. Office Depot hopes to help raise awareness and funds for classroom supplies for teachers by highlighting a few of the teachers that make a difference. Here are three teachers they profiled for the campaign — you can see exactly how special they are.

David Vixie teaches using covered wagons

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David Vixie is a teacher in Paradise, California, and believes that teaching should extend beyond the classroom. He puts this thought process into practice with his inclusive, experienced-based lessons that children really respond to. There is one particular experience the kids respond to really, really well. “I believe the most challenging and most rewarding (and eventually the favorite) prop for my students is the covered wagon and the weeklong overland trip they make with it,” he explains. “Here students have a chance to observe life at an uncommon pace, three miles an hour, while giving the weary thumbs that drive their modern lives a much-needed rest. They replace face to keyboard with face-to-face as they withdraw from their electronic worlds and come into rhythm with the earth and its cycles.”

Teaching in a traditional classroom from a textbook has never really appealed to Vixie, who made the decision to become a teacher when he was in seventh grade. He realized that instead of wishing things could be different, he could make that difference himself.

“Textbook narratives come to the reader as third-person encounters,” he tells us. “They lose significance by eliminating the reader from the action and account. Experience learning, by contrast, is first person. It gives the participant more power over what happens to them, power to control outcomes. It includes the learner who then searches for their significant place in the story — which does not have to be the same place as everyone else. It not only exposes the relevance to the learner but it elicits stronger emotions by engaging more senses. Emotions are memory glue.”

Cassie Cox walked in her students’ shoes

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Cassie Cox teaches at an alternative high school in Ogden, Utah, and has a special background that helps her really relate to the kids she teaches. She became pregnant at age 16, and eventually left high school. After a harrowing couple of years where she was barely able to make ends meet, she returned to school and got her GED. “Then, I earned a bachelor’s degree in education,” she shares. “Next, I earned a master’s degree in education. Finally, wanting to finish what I started, hoping to be a role model for my students, I enrolled in an adult education program — after earning my master’s degree — and I finished earning the credits needed to obtain a high school diploma.”

Even though she says dropping out was one of the worst choices she’s ever made in her life, she is able to use this experience to help inspire hundreds of students every year. She just received a student-nominated award, the Standard Examiner’s “Apple for the Teacher” award. “In his introduction, the student who nominated me said that my story of triumph and hope has inspired him to stay in school,” she says.

Cox says that she’s taught at an alternative high school for the entire 11 years she’s been a teacher, and that while funding for these types of schools is typically less than a traditional school, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “As a teacher, I feel like a paid student,” she explains. “My job is to learn — to learn the best ways to teach students to be better communicators, to read and to learn about the best books and to learn about the topics that will engage my students in learning, so they won’t ever want to leave school. I love that my job gives me the freedom to teach about the things I am most passionate about. Over time I’ve discovered that my students are most excited to learn about the things I’m most excited to teach about. Finally, I love that teaching has given me a platform for sharing my story of the power of perseverance and hope. My students need my story.”

Virginia Hamilton teaches empathy with animals

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Virginia Hamilton teaches in Indialantic, Florida, and operates a unique program for her students. The Canine Commandos visit kill shelters to help train animals so they are more easily adoptable, giving the students valuable life skills such as leadership, teamwork and problem-solving. They also gain an education in empathy and compassion, which aren’t qualities that are easily taught inside a traditional classroom.

“In order for the Commandos to sustain, we have to have parent chaperones,” she says. “All the parents that have students involved try to chaperone at least once to experience the training with their child. The students, especially after their first day, talk about the training with their parents because they were so excited and yes, they often beg their parents to adopt. One parent wrote on Facebook how this program helped their child understand that there are others in need and the Commandos offer a unique opportunity to show children how to give back.”

Working with the public is a requirement of the grant she was awarded to start the program. “When the Commandos are outside training, oftentimes, the public will be outside watching the dogs respond to the commands,” she remembers. “One group was training a mixed dog and explaining to a couple how great the dog was especially with kids. The couple smiled and left. Within a few minutes, the shelter employees returned with that couple to take the dog right out of that group’s hands explaining that he now has a new forever home.”

Office Depot has partnered with, a national organization dedicated to collecting and distributing funds to teachers, who in many cases use their own money to purchase classroom supplies to ensure each student has the tools to succeed. If you want to help out teachers in your neighborhood, they say the best way to do that is to donate supplies. Be sure to check out all of the documentary-style videos with the stories of amazing teachers.

More on kids and school

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Family travel and roadschooling
Is sex education going too far?

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