With a paper mache’ UFO hovering overhead and a cutout of Superman flying nearby, Appleview Elementary third-grade teacher David Oudbier fits right in –wearing a coonskin cap and purple velvet sport coat while standing on a chair. And because it recently was “mismatched crazy day” at the school, Oudbier also slipped on a wild print shirt he wore for his high school senior portrait.
Oudbier offers no apology for his quirky garb, but he does give a reason — that it helps his students learn.”It’s any reason to dress up for school is the way I look at it.”
“A lot of it is the rapport I have with the students. Any type of dress-up days I go into full throttle because with my own style of teaching, I don’t sit still. I’ll stand on tables and chairs, anything to get them engaged with what they’re doing.”
And that’s fine with Superintendent Gordon “Gordie” Nickels. “Dave is an out-going person who strives to bring learning alive for his students,” Nickels said. “He is willing to do whatever he can to get his students excited about their learning. He is very creative and very hard working.” Oudbier, 40, has worked in the school district for 17 years.
Oudbier’s classroom looks like a cyclone hit it. Books and boxes of papers are strewn around the room’s perimeter, just the way he likes it. “I was blessed with no organizational skills,” Oudbier said.
“I’m a left handed person, so I’m very right brain person,” he said. The right-hand side of the human brain is believed to be associated with creative thought and the emotions.
No Need to Stay Seated
You’ll not find the traditional desks lined up in neat rows in Oudbier’s classroom. Instead there are tables so students can collaborate with one another. They have their choice of swivel chairs or stationary chairs to sit in — when there’s sitting to be done — otherwise they stand, listen and interact with Oudbier. Such interaction demonstrates they understand what he’s taught them.
Gathered around him at this time are his students who are standing – not sitting – as they listen to Oudbier discuss the French fur traders who immigrated to Michigan and traded with various Native American tribes. The traders ultimately claimed the land as their own.
Was it right or wrong for the French to claim the land as their own? Oudbier asks. “It’s hard to go both ways,” Oudbier said. “Native Americans used the land but they didn’t have a concept of owning it. Was it right of the French to claim their land? Why or why not?”
It’s clear Oudbier is passionate on teaching his students, not only what to learn, but how to think. He accomplishes this with unconventional methods. “It’s kind of fun to watch him stand on a table,” third-grader Micayla Hill said.
“He makes up rhymes for social studies when we’re learning about Native Americans and French guys who came over to Michigan,” said third-grader Cory Janley.
More Inclined to Learn
“They’re more inclined to learn from someone they’re not afraid of, but instead to go out on a limb and have fun,” Oudbier said. “I have a whole box of clothing to wear and things to bring.”
The fake UFO in his classroom is from a Middle School play he directed several years back titled “We Like It Here” about aliens who crash land on Earth and — spoiler alert — end up helping a bankrupt college raise money to stay open.
Oudbier drinks deep from the pool of life and his life both inside the classroom and outside reflects that passion.
He plans in May to take his students on a one-day camping trip. “It’s something different,” he said. “Kids in this day and age don’t get out much.”
He recently directed the Middle School play “Night At The Museum.”
“It’s so powerful to see them mature and see them grow up,” Oudbier said. “They don’t act like Middle School students when they’re on the stage.”
Oudbier is a thespian in his own right, acting in community theater, most recently portraying Levi in the musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Oudbier also is site liaison locally for 31 female athletes who participate in in the after-school program, Girls on the Run. And he and his wife of 17 years, Darcie, have run in the Grand Rapids Marathon.
Why stay so busy particularly if all those after-work activities don’t mesh with his schedule?
“My philosophy is it will work out,” Oudbier said. “One of the reasons I’m so busy is time goes by so fast. Now’s the time to make a difference.”
“We’re trained to capture their hearts,” Oudbier said of his students. “Capture their hearts and you capture their attention. Capture their attention and you’ve captured their minds.”