From the back of the classroom to the front of the class 

Michael Lewis, Science Teacher, Union Public Schools 

From the student who wanted to blend into the walls to becoming the educator who inspires others, Michael Lewis embarked on a teaching career nearly 20 years ago and has never looked back. 

The Tulsa Union science teacher never thought he would be able to teach or speak in public. As a kid, Lewis was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and stroke, Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by sudden, repetitive, rapid and unwanted movements or vocal sounds called tics. 

Lewis was perfectly happy blending in with the walls.  

“As long as no one noticed me, no one made fun of me. I never considered teaching for me as a possibility when I was a kid. But that experience helps me,” he said. “When kids see their teacher as an example in front of them saying, ‘I was where you are,’ it is kind of inspiring. We should live our lives to give others a little bit of inspiration.”

Called to teach 

Education is extremely important to Lewis. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  In 2002 he earned his alternative Teacher certification, and started teaching that fall. 

Lewis teaches because he believes it is a calling. “For me personally, my desire to teach is an opportunity that God put in my heart to help kids,” he said. “I want my classroom to be a place where kids can find hope and safety. If kids feel safe in the classroom, learning is absolutely going to happen.” 

For eight years Lewis has taught middle school Science at Union Public Schools in Tulsa. Prior to that, he taught Business and Computer Technology for 11 years at Skiatook High School. 

Surrounded by educators, teaching is a family affair for Lewis. Lewis’ wife is a teacher at Owasso and recently received her national board certification. Their middle daughter teaches fifth graders in Owasso. And his sister is a special education teacher in Moore. 

“Because education is so important to me, I’ve always told my kids – my three daughters, as well as my students – they must get an education,” Lewis said. “And, there are three ways to get your education:  go to college, go to vo-tech or join the military. There is a fourth way and it is called ‘the school of hard knocks’, but it is extremely difficult, it never ends, and never pays well.”   

A strong work ethic 

Michael gets his work ethic from his parents. 

“My dad was a truck driver. My mom was a stay at home mom and she did alterations for people for extra income. She eventually became a secretary. Both parents graduated high school and were adamant about education. My parents told my sister and I that education was not an option, it was expected. My sister was the first person in my whole family to have a college degree and I was the second.” 

The blessings of teaching 

 “I can never retire because teaching is something I have always enjoyed,” said Lewis, who also enjoys teaching the Bible at church. “As long as I am healthy I will keep teaching. I enjoy the subject matter. I am always very blessed with the students I get to teach every year.” 

Lewis recalls a couple of students who had a great impact on him. 

“I was teaching computer technology to high school students, introducing them to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I had a special education student come to my class with his individualized education plan (IEP),” Lewis said. “There was a whole host of issues this student was dealing with. On top of these issues, he was poverty stricken. I was told by the Special Ed Teacher, that if this kid can recognize letters on the alphabet that would be awesome. By the end of the year, he was actually typing and putting together sentences.” 

Another amazing student encounter for Lewis occurred early in his teaching career. 

“I had only been teaching for a few years and I had particular student who was going to drop out and get a GED. He got his GED and went in to the Army,” Lewis said. “His drill sergeant was working on his masters and didn’t know how to make PowerPoint slides. My former student learned how to make PowerPoint slides from my classes and I understand he finished his basic training in an office chair in air conditioning. He was taught valuable skills he used in life.” 

Can’t complain 

Lewis is coming up on 20 years of teaching and his advice for someone wanting to enter the world of teaching is to do so because you want to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. There are so many opportunities to do that very thing. “I tell people I have a pretty good gig, he said. “I can’t complain.” 

When Lewis isn’t teaching, he likes to write. He’s written and had a book published, titled, “Common Sense with a Side of Gravy.” He’s also written a couple of short films, having produced one and hoping to produce another later in the spring. Plus, Lewis is always looking at ways to remodel his home. 

You can read more about Lewis in a feature story on the Tourette Association of America blog. 

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