As Mike Godsey, the new director of community life for the San Luis Obispo Classical Academy, sees it his educational vision has come full circle. He chose English as a
major at Cal Poly when he entered in 1993, “because I wanted to become wiser, to learn more about what it means to be a human being, to understand other people and communicate better.” Now, after seventeen years in public education as a high school English teacher and coach, he is transitioning to a new environment that he feels is a perfect fit for his educational beliefs.
Mike grew up in Pleasanton and graduated from Foothill High School. His mother was a high school teacher and his father a truck driver who also had been an Air Force pilot and air traffic controller. Attending college was an expectation for Mike, but “I took a year off to wait tables. I think that frightened my parents a little bit, but they always had faith that I’d go to college.”
At Foothill High School Mike played varsity baseball, and when he came to San Luis Obispo he was as an announcer for the Blues and coached one season of freshman baseball at San Luis Obispo High School. “I loved the game and wanted to stay involved in any way I could. In a roundabout way baseball has helped steer my life.”
After Cal Poly, Mike enrolled in the Masters in Literature program at the University of Colorado. “It was a formative experience for me. There was an emphasis on pedagogy, learning to teach, the philosophy of teaching. We would learn graduate level Transcendentalism and then teach the undergraduate classes. There was a lot of collaboration, learning to teach by observing one another and team teaching.”
Mike wanted to continue teaching and coaching, so he returned to San Luis Obispo and earned a credential through Chapman University. He student taught at both Righetti
High School and SLOHS. I happened to be the principal at the time Mike was student teaching at SLOHS. I remember him telling me that his dream was to teach English and coach baseball there. His dream came true when he was hired in 2002.
For the next ten years, Mike taught Advanced Placement English and coached baseball and varsity girls’ basketball. Although he had never coached basketball, he welcomed the challenge of learning something new. “That’s the short answer. The longer answer is that I had an epiphany that I was going to have a daughter someday, that there’s a reason this opportunity is being presented to me, and that I needed to know more about working with girls.”
Mike met his wife, Melissa, when he bought a computer to do film and statistics for the team. Melissa helped him set up his web page. “If I hadn’t taken the job, I wouldn’t have met Melissa. We have a daughter, Ellie, seven, and a son, Graham, one.” Melissa has been, and is currently, very active in San Luis Obispo, both professionally and as
a volunteer. Ellie attends SLOCA, which includes both classroom and homeschool instruction. Melissa is Ellie’s homeschool instructor.
Always eager for a new challenge, Mike transferred to Morro Bay High School in 2012. “It was a chance to try something new in a new community. Another impetus was that they had a position open for a boys’ varsity basketball coach. “It’s been everything I hoped it would be,” Mike said. He moved from basketball to golf and this year his team won the Los Padres League Championship for the first time since 2003.
At MBHS Mike has enjoyed the openness to innovation. “I was given a lot of freedom to explore different texts, different ways of approaching the common core and the skills we were trying to teach.” This freedom led to an experience that ended up bringing quite a bit of notoriety to Mike and to MBHS: using the podcast, “Serial,” as a ‘text’ in his English classes.
“Serial,” a spinoff of This American Life on National Public Radio, is a podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig. In 2014, it followed the true story of the murder of a female student at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore in 1999. “Melissa was listening to it and made me listen because she was intrigued and wanted someone to talk to about it. Like almost everyone, I got hooked. It follows the investigation, the arrest and the trial of the girl’s former boyfriend.” Everyone involved was interviewed for the podcast, including the boyfriend.
“I brought it to class and the students loved it. It’s a well-crafted story and Koenig is a great storyteller. It’s the most listened to podcast in the history of podcasts.” Mike found it was ideal for teaching common core skills: critical thinking, looking for relevant clues and information in a text, literary analysis, perspective of the narrator and those interviewed, all happening in real time. “The story was exciting, alive,” Mike said. “None of us knew how it was going to end, including me.”
Melissa encouraged Mike to write a blog about why he was teaching “Serial” instead of Shakespeare. He tweeted a link to it, “to my five followers, including Melissa and my mother, #Serial,” Mike said, “and the next day I got an email from the Wall Street Journal.” Mike and his class were featured in an article, which led to more questions about lesson plans, how and why he was teaching “Serial.” He was contacted by The Atlantic Monthly and since then he has written nine articles about education for Atlantic’s online edition. He’s also written for the LA Times, Literacy Today, and other publications.
Mike’s first article, the one most related to his new position at SLOCA, and related to his original intention for becoming an English major and a teacher in the first place, was about “who would be teaching the next generation our cultural wisdom, who would be teaching about life through literature and history? It may be way out of my job description to teach wisdom and life skills, but if not me, who?” As successful as he was with “Serial,” he still valued the wisdom and the cultural knowledge available in the great works of Western Civilization, “not to elevate it above other traditions, but to study it and know it” as part of our common heritage.
The San Luis Obispo Classical Academy defines its mission as “a community that forges character, fosters wisdom, and nurtures lifelong learning.” It provides “classical education (with a twist) to central coast families.” Its educational model is built on three classical stages of a student’s learning process, the trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric, which are taught in succession through elementary, middle and high school, in all of the academic disciplines, with an emphasis on literature and history. It combines classroom instruction with home instruction, with the goal of engaging the whole family in a student’s education. In its thirteenth year, SLOCA’s current enrollment is 383 students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
“Teaching wisdom, character, and life lessons are the foundation of SLOCA, studying what’s true, good and beautiful, has passed the test of time,” Mike said. As Director of Community Life, Mike will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the school, much like a principal, “making sure that students are in a healthy, safe place for learning, but also that teachers feel it’s the best place to teach. It’s a new position that was described to me by Susie Theule, the Executive and Visionary Director, as a gift to the students and teachers.”
There are many articles written about why San Luis Obispo is such a great place to live. Accessibility to excellent public and private education, and to great educators, deserves to be near the top of the list. Mike Godsey hopes to keep adding to that strength in our educational community.
For more information about the San Luis Obispo Classical Academy, go to www.sloclassical.org.