Faculty Spotlight


Julie Janik
 
Middle School Social Studies, Language Arts, and Theater
Master of Arts, National Louis University 
Master of Arts, Bowling Green State University
Master of Music, University of Cincinnati
Bachelor of Music, University of Cincinnati 
Number of Years at Elgin Academy:  11
 
Many people have said middle school kids are the hardest students to teach.  Do you agree or disagree?  Why?
 
I disagree. Middle school kids are a joy to teach. Their critical thinking skills and academic independence are just starting to blossom at this age, and they are contemplating topics and issues in new ways and at deeper levels. With all of this cognitive growth, middle school kids are still open to what I have to contribute to their learning.  They still think I might know a little something and listen to what I have to say. They are very positive about what school has to offer and receptive to my guidance.  They are still dreamers untouched by cynicism.  Middle school kids are not yet too cool for school.  Yes, middle school students are going through awkward physical and emotional changes, but they can still sing, dance, move around, and tell ridiculous stories in class and not be inhibited.  For me, middle school is the ideal teaching situation.  It is my niche, and I am destined to be here.
 
W.C. Fields once said, “Never work with children or animals.”  As the longtime director of the Middle School Musical, you’ve probably done both.  Do you agree with his sentiment?  
 
Yes.  I have done both.   In the musical, Annie Jr.(which I have directed twice), there are many children and a dog in the cast.  And no, I don’t agree with this statement.  As for working with animals, the dog was a bit of a challenge, but it all turned out well.  As for working with kids, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  It is always incredibly rewarding to see a child grow into a role, to see a kid who is quiet and unsure in the classroom develop into a character who is confident and self-assured on stage.  To foster a sense of accomplishment and pride with a cast of kids is far more gratifying than any other theater experience.
 
What is your process for finding the right Musical for the middle school students to perform each year?  
 
As I begin the process, I try to think of musicals that are entirely different in style from the musical performed the year before.  I then look at the kids who will be returning to the middle school the next year.  I see how many boys and how many girls I will have and what their talents are.  Are they singers, actors, dancers?  I next go online to different sites that offer shows geared toward middle school students.  These are usually shows that are approximately an hour long in duration and are age appropriate.  Once I have narrowed down my choices I speak with Mrs. Bayer in the Upper School to make sure we are not thinking of doing the same show.  Then, I talk with other faculty members who help with the middle school musical to get their input.  Finally, the decision is made and the show for the next year is announced at the Middle School Award Ceremony on the last day of school.
 
What does the concept of taking learning personally mean to you as a teacher?  How do you apply it in your classroom?
         
“Students won’t always remember the content, but many will never forget how you made them feel.” This quote by Terry Heick, originally published from “10 Things I Wish I Knew My First Year Of Teaching” in TeachThought, has influenced the way I teach and shaped my teaching philosophy.  It is what “Taking Learning Personally” means to me.  For students to reach their full potential, I believe my job as an educator includes catering to their various learning styles by incorporating differentiated instruction into the classroom and developing a curriculum and forms of assessment that are student-centered. This task that I take very seriously also includes providing my students with many skills and strategies to employ across the curriculum building confidence and pride in their abilities.  But “Taking Learning Personally” goes beyond the academic.  It means actively listening to a student and supporting his or her social and emotional development as well.  Education is a journey, and my objective is to equip learners with as much in-depth knowledge and tools for success as possible in the short time I am privileged to share with them.  This educational journey is one that should never end in a particular destination but one that always leads to new paths of enrichment and understanding.  It is my goal and purpose to help guide students to these new paths and beyond.  To conclude Terry Heick's quote from above, “One day, you (the teacher) will just be the blurry face in an adult’s memory. They’ll likely not remember how a poet used symbolism to establish a harsh tone in a poem, and they may not remember you, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel about themselves.”  That is my approach to “Taking Learning Personally.”
 
Social Studies is such a broad and varied topic.  How do you bring it down to a manageable size for students and keep them engaged and interested?
 
Having taught Social Studies for many years, I have learned to focus more on quality versus quantity of material. There is a set curriculum I need to follow with each grade level, but I know I am not able to cover everything.   Many dates and events in history can be quickly memorized, but also quickly forgotten. Therefore, I try to focus on the understanding of general concepts and themes that permeate their study of history and culture not just in middle school but high school and beyond.  I am a big proponent of differentiated instruction, so I try to employ various strategies to engage students and keep them interested by appealing to each of their learning styles.  One of my favorite tactics to keep middle school students engaged and interested in music and movement in the classroom.  All middle schoolers like some type of music and brain research proves music helps them remember.  As for movement, we all learn better and retain information more effectively when we can get up and move around.
 


Julie Janik
Middle School Social Studies, Language Arts, and Theater
Master of Arts, National Louis University 
Master of Arts, Bowling Green State University Master of Music, University of Cincinnati
Bachelor of Music, University of Cincinnati 
 
"Middle school kids are a joy to teach. Their critical thinking skills and academic independence are just starting to blossom at this age, and they are contemplating topics and issues in new ways and at deeper levels."
Read More about Julie Janik
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Peggy Veltri

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Heather Giebel

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Master of Music, New England Conservatory
Bachelor of Music, University of Massachusetts

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Jim Kidston

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Bachelor of Arts, University of Michigan
Master of Arts, University of Chicago
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