When I was in high school, I didn’t consider becoming an English teacher. Sure, I loved to read and write, but I had different plans. My senior English teacher Mrs. Elaine Moore suggested several times that I should go into teaching. I said no, that I was going to Michigan Tech to become a technical writer. During my freshman year at MTU, she sent me a letter reminding me that I was in the wrong program at the wrong school for me. I should transfer to Northern Michigan University for teaching English, she persisted. Again, I ignored her advice. After I graduated from Michigan Tech, Mrs. Moore attended my wedding. She didn’t remind me then that I was meant to be a teacher, but I wouldn’t have believed her if she told me that someday I would have a classroom full of students.
I didn’t start teaching until I turned 30. I remember getting a letter of recommendation the previous spring from my supervising teacher BG Bradley after I had completed my student teaching at Westwood High School. “A teacher had been born 29 years before,” he wrote. “It was just that her time had finally come.” I thought back to my high school English teacher, and realized that she had recognized this all along.
Over the years, I have told several of my own students that they would make outstanding teachers. Some scoffed at me. Others have become teachers – including Emily Bianchi, Emily Strazzinski, Breanna Veale, and Jenny Winfield, to name a few. I am so proud and delighted whenever I hear that one of my former students has become a teacher.
My friend Dr. Kia Richmond, an Associate Professor of English-Secondary Education at NMU, recently approached the Gwinn High School English teachers about an exciting opportunity. She had applied for and received an $1,800 grant from MEEMIC Insurance Company, and a supplemental $500 Academic Service Learning grant from NMU. The MEEMIC grant, called “Reading/Teaching the Future,” would allow her EN350 (Materials and Methods of Teaching English) students to connect with middle and high school students in discussions focused on the life of an English teacher. She wondered if some of our students would want to meet with hers to discuss what English teachers do, how they prepare for careers in education, and why people might become English teachers.
Participants would be able to choose a free book or movie related to teaching, she said, and in exchange would write a review or reflection to be posted online. Kia is such a go-getter, and she has brilliant ideas (I don’t toss around the word ‘brilliant’ lightly). I liked this idea, but wondered how many students would be interested. How many GHS students want to be English teachers? Maybe one or two, I thought. Would students show up after school for a get-together? I didn’t know how much participation to expect, but I do know that Kia’s projects always turn out better than imaginable so I looked forward to getting started.
We put together a survey for GHS students, asking if they like to read and write, as well as if they ever considered becoming an English teacher. Based on these surveys, interested students were identified and invited to attend our gathering. We met from 3-5 p.m. yesterday. Nineteen students participated, joined by our high school English teachers showing support.
Kia brought five of her Northern students. They mingled with the high schoolers and answered questions. The methods students will be student teaching in the fall, so they are near completion of their credits for certification. They are so passionate about becoming teachers that it made me feel lucky to stand in my classroom, surrounded by eager students. The excitement was contagious as students discussed their book and movie choices. Some chose to read the same title so they could discuss it together; others made plans to trade books later. At 5:00, students still didn’t want to leave. This morning, I saw them carrying their new books into class and showing their friends.
Attending this gathering made me realize how important it is to reach out to these students. I’m sure Mrs. Moore’s encouragement during my high school years led to my eventual decision to become a teacher. With all the negative news about education lately, it’s especially important to reach out to the next generation. Secretary Arne Duncan of the U.S. Department of Education said Friday that over the next ten years, our country will need 1.7 million new teachers to replace the retiring teachers of the baby boomer generation.
I don’t know how many of these 19 students will become English teachers; certainly not all. How wonderful, though, if yesterday we planted that idea in their minds.
Kia and the methods students are going to conduct a similar meeting with North Star Academy students in Marquette on Friday. Also, part of the grant allowed for the methods students to join the Michigan Council of Teachers of English, which will support them in their professional endeavors. I encourage these soon-to-be teachers also to connect with the National Writing Project early in their teaching careers. I participated in the Writing Project summer institute the summer before I started teaching, and it was the best professional development I’ve experienced.
I am so thankful for the partnership our high school has been able to have with Kia through Northern Michigan University, and I know the other English teachers at Gwinn agree. She is a forward thinker and always an encourager of future teachers. It’s important work.
Note: Any students who participate in this project (from Gwinn, NMU, North Star or elsewhere) and would like to submit a review or reflection for online publication are invited to join the Wikispace http://englishteachersrock.wikispaces.com/ . The first student from Gwinn to post will receive a prize from Mrs. Hollands!