Middle School

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Sandra Revak

Middle School Director
Bachelor of Science, Cornell College
Master of Arts, Aurora University

My career in education has always centered around the middle school student. I have worked with my students and their families in multiple school environments: public, private, parochial, and independent.I find tremendous satisfaction in watching a young fifth grader traverse the roller-coaster ride of their middle school years and develop into an eighth grader who is confident and ready to accept the increasing challenges that lie before them
- Sandy Revak

The three words that form the basis of my teaching philosophy are challenge, encourage, and grow.

Challenge: I strive to challenge each and every student to expand their understanding of a concept/subject/world/themselves in an active learning environment. I want students to analyze ideas, consider various viewpoints, draw informed conclusions, and be willing to take the risk needed to stretch themselves beyond what they initially thought were their personal limitations.

Encourage: I encourage each student to realize their potential and develop the confidence in themselves to learn and share what they know. I want each student to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, both a learner and as an individual, so they can use this knowledge in their academic and social/emotional pursuits. Everyone can learn, and we all do so in different ways and at our own pace.

Grow: When a student develops confidence in their own abilities, it helps them become receptive to the diversity of the world and become the person they want to be. I want every student to see learning as a worthy pursuit and one which opens the path to help them find their place in the world and compels them to contribute to it

I find tremendous satisfaction in watching a young fifth grader traverse the roller-coaster ride of their middle school years and develop into an eighth grader who is confident and ready to accept the increasing challenges that lie before them.

Trisha Shrum

Middle School Administrative Assistant, Summer Program - Assistant Coordinator
Bachelor of Arts, Roosevelt University

It’s not about how big or small are mistakes are, but how we correct them that define us. Life is full of choices that can lend itself to teaching opportunities. As a teacher I feel part of my job is to help students become equipped with the right tools, knowledge, and characteristics to grow both personally and academically in any situation. Elgin Academy naturally offers me the opportunity to teach in this way, which is inspiring.
- Trisha Shrum

Helen Elayan

PS-12 School Counselor
Bachelor of Arts, DePaul University
Masters of Arts, Adler School of Professional Psychology

Mary Bayer

Upper School Theater & History, Middle School Theater, Summer Program - Musical Theater Camp
Master of Science, Illinois State University
Master of Arts, St. Mary's University
Bachelor of Arts, Saint Mary's University

My role as an educator is to help each student become a life¬long learner—one who is always questioning and seeking, posing new problems and formulating creative solutions, one who digs deeper and reaches farther to find the answer, but understands that the process of seeking the answer is more important than the answer itself.
- Mary Bayer

I believe this would be my role regardless of what subject I teach. As a theatre teacher, I facilitate an appreciation for learning on a daily basis, as students in my classroom explore theatre through a variety of lenses—not just performing, but also theatre history, design, script analysis, directing, and criticism. Through this broad exploration of the art form, students gain an understanding of the collaborative nature of theatre, as well as form a basis for life­long appreciation of humanity's most personal and living form of artistic expression.

In my classroom, I value the unique contributions of students and help them start from where they are, understanding that not everyone has the same level of theatre experience or innate ability. Students often feel vulnerable or unsure when asked to express themselves in ways that are asked of them in a theatre class. In order to make my students feel safe, I strive to establish an atmosphere of respect, fun, and collaboration in my classroom every day. This helps students set aside fears of personal weakness and creates a platform for bold exploration. By creating an an environment where students feel safe being themselves, my classroom becomes a place where they feel that they can take risks with artistic and emotional expression, make and grow from mistakes, feel comfortable giving honest and kind feedback to others, and be able to hear and implement feedback in their own work.

In my classroom, students engage physically with the material on a daily basis. Theatre is the art of doing, as the most basic vocabulary of the theatre demonstrates—act, play, imitate...A theatre artist's medium is not paint or clay, but rather physical action. Because of this, physical engagement is one of the most important aspects of my teaching. In a typical class period, I am on my feet the whole time, and I try to get the students on their feet as much as possible, whether for physical and vocal warm­ups, monologue and scene rehearsals, or acting and directing exercises. Even in more academic lessons, such as theatre history, students are asked to engage physically as well, by taking written notes, moving around the classroom to work with different discussion groups, or to examine historical contexts through experimental means; for example, when studying the question of the real authorship of Shakespeare's plays, the students physically create a mock trial where the question is debated in a classroom “courtroom.” By physically experiencing the material in my classroom, students gain a more complete understanding of that material.

A student who has completed a theatre course with me will leave with not only a specific set of artistic skills that can be used to approach a play in the future, but also expanded concrete knowledge and practice at in-depth analysis. Students must learn to see plays as ways to tell story, create character, investigate thought, speak and hear prose and poetry, move fluidly, and interact with architecture. They must be able to think critically and combine those elements in ways that create meaning. In all of my classes, we practice writing, because writing teaches students to articulate ideas in a clear and persuasive manner. In addition, reading as much as possible increases student exposure to the larger field and its connection to other disciplines. I base nearly every unit of my classes out of a dramatic text, regardless of what age of student or area of theatre being studied. For example, when studying theatre of the English Renaissance, we read A Midsummer Night's Dream, explore the historical context in which it was written, look at theatre production elements of the time, analyze and perform acting scenes from the play, and design sets and costumes for each students' own hypothetical production. In another course, the students rehearse and perform a ten­minute play, as well as complete a character analysis based on a study of the text. In both cases, the script becomes the gateway to the examination of theatre through several different lenses.

Students who make and interpret theatrical art are learning to interpret the world around them on a much broader stage than just the one in the school. By teaching theatre, I teach students to question the world around them, to investigate the implications of all performed culture, to come up with creative solutions to dramatic problems, and to think critically about not just art, but about their world.

Jessica Brown

Middle School English, Summer Program Instructor
Master of Arts, DePaul University
Master of Science in Education, Nazareth College
Bachelor of Arts, State University of New York at Cortland

My teaching philosophy stems from a quote by Madeline Hunter: "Expecting all children the same age to learn from the same materials is like expecting all children the same age to wear the same size clothing."
- Jessica Brown

As an educator, it is essential to understand that students have different learning styles and be able to accommodate those. I must be ready and willing to adapt lessons to ensure students are confident about learning and are achieving their personal best in the classroom, while providing students with engaging activities and promoting personal accountability.

Heather Cannon

Lower School French, Middle School French
Bachelor of Arts, Miami University
Bachelor of Science, Miami University

It is my experience that the most effective educators make connections with their students. Personal relationships in schools are vitally important in order for both the teacher and the student to be successful.
- Heather Cannon

Over the years, I have developed a philosophy of education, which is the driving force behind my teaching practices. In order to best describe who I am as a teacher, I would like to describe this philosophy. First and foremost, I believe that all children can learn. They just learn in different ways. As an educator, it is my responsibility to utilize the appropriate teaching methodology for all of the students to whom I am responsible. Therefore I must constantly be willing to learn and grow in order to provide the best educational experience for my students. Collaborating with colleagues, attending workshops and reading current literature in the field of world language education are a few ways in which I strive to accomplish that goal. It is indeed through the process of learning that I have become and continue to become a better teacher.

It is my experience that the most effective educators make connections with their students. Personal relationships in schools are vitally important in order for both the teacher and the student to be successful. In my French class at Elgin Academy, many discussions and writing assignments focus on the lives and interests of the students as well as my own. Storytelling in all grades gives the students an opportunity to develop their own voice and create in French in a fun way. Additionally I have discovered that connecting the language to subject matter in the core curriculum deepens the interest level of the class. When language is seen as meaningful, the desire to learn is stronger. For example, while eighth graders are discussing the era of WWII in history class, we discuss the war from the perspective of a French child. Communicating with native speakers also sharpens the awareness of the students that they are citizens of the world. Using a networking site, the students post journal entries and receive corrections from French speakers in real time. It is wonderful to hear the conversations among the kids as they learn directly about another culture through communication with a native speaker.

Another way I work to create a learning environment that is relevant to the students is to make it child centered as opposed to teacher directed. In such a classroom, there is presence of academic choice and ownership. Additionally critical thinking opportunities are integrated into the curriculum. The students feel empowered to voice their opinions and know that their thoughts matter. Furthermore, the students consistently reflect on themselves as learners and begin to identify their strengths and weaknesses. One way I do this is by asking the students to predict how they will perform on an assessment as well as describe what they did to prepare. Upon receiving the results, they are asked to reflect on their learning strategies and to come up with a plan for improvement if necessary.

I am fortunate to teach at a school, such as Elgin Academy, where I am surrounded by colleagues and administrators who share these same beliefs. In such an environment, the students are provided an opportunity to reach their full potential.

Marie Cinquemani-Thomas

Upper School Music & Hilltop Coordinator, Middle School Music, Choir Director
Bachelor of Music, DePaul University

We have a saying in Room 301: What Happens In The Music Room, Stays In The Music Room. The end result is students who are willing to take risks, and are willing to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. This translates into growth as a musician as well as a student, and a person.
- Marie Cinquemani-Thomas

Every music student has the capability to be successful, whether it is on a personal, academic, or performance level. As a music teacher, I set my expectations high; at times higher than the students themselves may think they are capable of achieving. Whether the students achieve the stated goal at “face value” is not the point. It is through the process, the journey, that the student discovers their voice, their art, and themselves.

As both a middle school and an upper school teacher, I have the opportunity to teach many of my students for eight years. This longevity builds trust, and allows me to create on the students’ knowledge base. Each year I generate a new curriculum based on the students that are in my classroom at that time, taking into consideration their individual skill sets. I adapt as much as possible to the individual needs of my students.

My Introduction to Fine Arts Music classes create individual portfolios that help them track their growth in musicianship, and help them to begin to reflect on their role in the learning process. At the end of each quarter, parents are also asked to review the portfolio with their child and reflect on the strengths, and the areas that need to be addressed in their son or daughter’s learning.

My choir concerts are not typical of what you would find in a conventional middle or high school music program. Instead, I create my choir programs around a specific, selected genre. This approach allows the students to be immersed in a specific style for many weeks, and creates time for them to explore the social, economic and political connections to the songs they are learning. I have created concerts ranging from “Music of Afrika and the African American Tradition” to “American Folk Songs” to “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” At times I will program a major choral work such as the Faure Requiem or Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, and these choices are always driven by the changing skills and needs of the students.

The study of music in general, and singing in particular, is personal. Students who learn to sing can become vulnerable during the process, as it involves much more than learning a basic technique, it involves learning to communicate emotion through their physical apparatus. As a music teacher, I guide my students through this process of self-discovery. As a young high school student I remember being terrified to sing in front of others, and struggling with basic musicianship. My own experience with performance anxiety and my personal struggle with music theory gives me a unique understanding of the challenges my students face.

I create a fun and playful atmosphere where my students can explore and create. I share my own personal experiences as a professional singer with them (the amazing performances as well as the embarrassing incidents,) so they feel safe enough to fail with reckless abandon. We have a saying in Room 301: What Happens In The Music Room, Stays In The Music Room. The end result is students who are willing to take risks, and are willing to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. This translates into growth as a musician as well as a student, and a person.

Veronica Clements

Middle & Upper School Videography, MS Girls Soccer Head Coach, Summer Program Instructor
Bachelor of Fine Arts, University of Illinois

My passion for learning is what inspired me to become a teacher. I want to ignite that same passion in my students in a way that inspires them to create visual media beyond what they thought was possible for themselves.
- Veronica Clements

When I came to Elgin Academy as a student in the ninth grade, I was ready to work hard but I was very unsure of what goals I was trying to accomplish because I saw a separation between what my true dreams were and what I thought I was supposed to do. It was through my teachers at Elgin Academy and their fierce encouragement and support that I was able to realize I was both capable and worthy of achieving my dreams. The teachers and faculty believed in me more than I believed in myself, and they saw something in me that I was not able to see yet. That is exactly why I want to be a teacher, especially at Elgin Academy. I will believe in my students and push them to create media artworks beyond what they thought were possible by working together through creative teamwork.

As a videography teacher, I believe it is my responsibility to give students a visual vocabulary for them to be able to articulate what they see and feel in a new way. Through this vocabulary, they will be able to effectively create meaningful videos, drawing from critical film knowledge and their own innovative techniques. Some of the best teaching advice I have received is, “Whoever is working is the one who is learning,” which is how I want to manage my classroom. I want to provide resources, art, and film examples to students that inspire them to use the camera in new ways in order to produce and edit their own stories. I want my students to look at the world differently, see art in the ordinary, and find inventive ways to create and problem solve. It is my job to provide students with context of what they’re learning and the work they are making, which in turn shows them how media effects the way history is shaped. It is important for me to help my students understand the power of film and its impact on the world and the gravity of the expectation for authenticity. Through the study of film and media, both historically and contemporarily, students will gain a visual understanding of the topics covered in their other classes as well as an insight into the way the film industry has evolved and who has typically been included and excluded from the narratives. I want students to be able to empathetically tell a story.

My teaching style is something that is in its early stages of development. I know I can learn a lot from my students and I am eager to do so. My passion and excitement about art and its historical and contemporary influence will be contagious. My students will be exposed to a variety of different camera, editing, and compositional techniques and strategies and will learn about how they developed and why they are important. From there, students will be expected to work in groups and on their own to demonstrate understanding in the way that excites them. I want my class to provide students with the knowledge and understanding of visual topics in order to serve as tools in strengthening what they are already passionate about or as a way of realizing a completely new creative outlet. Through collaboration comes success, and through laughter comes healing. I want my students to see that having fun and working hard should be of equal importance when expressing themselves. Through working together in each process of production, students will grow and learn from each other. Through projects that push them to create art out of each moment, they can see beauty in mundane and excitement in uniqueness. I understand students know how to use technology, so it is my goal to teach them how to use their eyes in a new way and that preproduction is most important.

When my students create visual media that innovatively combines strategies they learned in class with their own passion and explorative techniques, I will know I have accomplished what I set out to do as a teacher. When my students are able to watch a film or visual media and critically understand and engage in a dialogue about the goals of the creators and the techniques used to achieve these goals, I will know they understand the difference between how they truly feel and how effective visual communication makes an audience feel. I will know my students have grown when I see them talking about who and what is left out of the conversation or media, and creating their own works that push to progress limitations in current visual consumption. Most importantly, when my students are having fun creating with each other, I know I am being an effective teacher.

Heather Giebel

Lower School Music & Choir Director, Middle School Music
Master of Music, New England Conservatory
Bachelor of Music, University of Massachusetts

Music should make a young child smile. Music should make a child move and dance. When children are laughing, singing, dancing and playing instruments together, it is easy to teach the fundamental skills of rhythm, beat, pitch and notation.
- Heather Giebel

Do you remember your childhood music class? I do. We sat and sang songs once a week for 30 minutes while the teacher played the piano and chomped on original flavor trident gum. The fact that I can remember her preferred brand of gum, but cannot recall a memory of an enjoyable musical experience is telling! Thankfully, as a child my house was filled with music and dance every day. The stark contrast between a stimulating musical experience at home and a dry stagnant experience at school helped shape the philosophy that drives my teaching. Music should make a young child smile. Music should make a child move and dance. When children are laughing, singing, dancing and playing instruments together, it is easy to teach the fundamental skills of rhythm, beat, pitch and notation.

On any given day, visitors come into my classroom and witness children playing music, moving to music, and reading musical notation. Yes, I start this skill in preschool. Young children learn to recognize letters, numbers, and shapes, and are capable of recognizing musical notation as well. We begin understanding the language of music at an early age while the window of opportunity is open! Actively engaging my students through hands on experiences in preschool through – sixth grade keeps them interested in learning and accepting new musical challenges.

Every year the students continue to amaze me as they catch the performance bug! Once they have felt successful as a singer and instrumentalist, (and are rewarded for this experience) the children work even harder, and with greater enthusiasm to hone their musical skills. As a musician, mother and teacher, I see performance as a tool to teach each child how to set goals, prepare, practice and work as a member of a team.

I strive to give my students a musical education they will fondly remember because in my class they laughed, they danced, they acquired skills that could never be taken away, and they worked together to create great music.

Ivonne Hopkins

Middle School Spanish, Upper School Spanish
Master of Arts, Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara
Bachelor of Arts, Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara

I teach with a communicative approach in mind because my goal is for my students to be able to communicate effectively in Spanish. I want my students to acquire a broader vision of the world and to understand other cultures. This will make them more tolerant and open-minded.
- Ivonne Hopkins

Being a teacher has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I have learned immensely from my students. My views have changed and evolved as I have been exposed to different types of learners. These changes are evident in my teaching philosophy.

I teach with a communicative approach in mind because my goal is for my students to be able to communicate effectively in Spanish. Since the first day of school, even if they have never taken Spanish before, we start talking. I teach them how to say their name and how to greet people in Spanish. For each level of Spanish I teach, I do activities that are appropriate such as talking about the summer or describing a person.

I want my students to acquire a broader vision of the world and to understand other cultures. This will make them more tolerant and open-minded.

I encourage students to use the language as often as possible. I have useful daily phrases in Spanish posted in the classroom as a reference for them to use, for example, "May I use the restroom?", "Can I see my grade?", or "How do you say ____ in Spanish?"

I want my students to feel empowered by this new language. I do not want a group of kids listening passively in class. I want them to acquire a new tool to express themselves. It is a gradual process to be able to say all that needs to be said, but at least it is not a passive one, instead it is an active involvement in the learning process.

My students can expect a supportive, understanding, caring teacher. They will get their questions answered and I will provide the tools they need to be able to perform. I care about each individual student and I want him/her to succeed. I strive to give them every opportunity to learn and to be proud of what they can accomplish with the language.

My view of teaching has changed dramatically with experience and exposure to different types of students over the last twenty five years of my life.

I have worked for a number of different schools in Mexico and the U.S. I have learned to understand individual needs and the concept of "fairness". I learned more about students' needs and real fairness in a Special Education class that I took in 1999. It opened my eyes and helped me see the classroom in a different way. Each student is a unique individual with specific needs and abilities. I get to know my students and I endeavor to help them develop their skills to their full potential.

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many different kinds of professionals that have inspired me, taught me new approaches or teaching techniques, and shared their experiences. One of the pleasures of being a teacher is to be surrounded by smart, highly educated people from whom I can learn constantly.

Susan Howe

Middle & Upper School Classics, US Driver’s Education
Bachelor of Arts, Wesleyan University
Master of Arts, National Louis University

Allen Funt (of Candid Camera fame) used to say that when people are smiling, they are receptive to anything you want to teach them. Laughter brings walls down and allows learning to happen, but not only that, it is the relief from anxiety that laughter brings that is conducive to learning. As a teacher, I believe it is my role to establish a safe classroom environment, provide resources and direction, provoke curiosity, and prepare students for their adult lives in whatever small ways I can.
- Susan Howe

Allen Funt (of Candid Camera fame) used to say that when people are smiling, they are receptive to anything you want to teach them. Laughter brings walls down and allows learning to happen, but not only that, it is the relief from anxiety that laughter brings that is conducive to learning. As a teacher, I believe it is my role to establish a safe classroom environment, provide resources and direction, provoke curiosity, and prepare students for their adult lives in whatever small ways I can.

Education itself should, at its root, be teaching and preparing students for life after school. As a Latin teacher, practical applications of my subject matter are harder to spot than I would like, so what I strive to teach is thinking. If we can teach students to think for themselves and learn across media and content area and think laterally, we will be creating responsible and independent adults.

I believe effective teachers lead their students to learning by being learners themselves and that they encourage progress, praise successes, and guide students to overcome obstacles. My educational philosophy is that a teacher must strive to capture the imaginations of students through engaging lessons and a true wonder in and excitement for the material. I want my students to find humor in my class and derive a sense not only of success but also of satisfaction and joy in the learning itself. The goal is to find what it is in each student that will open his or her mind to an appreciation of knowledge and understanding of how he or she, individually and in groups, can make a tremendous difference in the communities of which he or she chooses to be a part. My job as a teacher is not only to teach the content in class, but also to teach a passion for the pursuit of learning. I want the connections between ancient and modern life to be made clear but I also want to show how learning an ancient language is an avenue through which students can take responsibility for their own learning and become active in their own education.

Far too often, Latin is dismissed as esoteric, but the diagnostic skills required to parse a sentence are the same skills required to parse current events. My hope is to arm them to think critically about language and through that to teach them to think critically in other spheres of life. I want my students to leave my class with an understanding of Latin and with a smile!

Janet Hughes

Middle School Language Arts
Bachelor of Arts, University of Michigan

Teaching is about nurturing the mind, not just instructing the brain. I believe strongly in the “heart” as well as “art” of teaching. I keep the “heart” as my professional north star to best serve my students. From an early age, my father an English professor and my mother a Kindergarten teacher taught me that education is valuable and that learning never ends. It has been this valuable philosophy of learning that led me to uncover teaching as a career.
- Janet Hughes

From an early age, my father an English professor and my mother a Kindergarten teacher taught me that education is valuable and that learning never ends. It has been this valuable philosophy of learning that led me to uncover teaching as a career. Teaching is about nurturing the mind, not just instructing the brain. I believe strongly in the “heart” as well as “art” of teaching. I keep the “heart” as my professional north star to best serve my students.

Each year, I bring, into my classroom, an invisible backpack filled with hopes, aspirations, and goals for each of my students. As their teacher, I strive to impart knowledge while providing support. I am passionate and motivated to give my students inspiration and confidence for them to believe they can succeed. As an advisor, I consider it my responsibility to show students the importance of goal setting, organization, and time management that will give them the tools they need to be successful in their everyday lives.

When students walk into my classroom, they are stepping into a safe learning environment where they will become successful. A smile from a knowledgeable teacher who desires to create the best learning environment for each student will greet them.

I am consciously aware that each class is a unique community of learners that varies not only in abilities, but also in learning styles. My role as teacher is to give children the tools to cultivate their own gardens of knowledge. It is my goal in teaching to involve the interests of my students and make learning relevant to their lives. I have found that learning is fun and significant when I bring my own interests into the classroom as well as incorporate the interests and experiences of my students. This really helps my students to connect with the activities we are working on and it makes them feel like what they are doing is important.

Students become active participants in their learning while in my classroom. Whether we are working on the EA 5th/6th grade tradition of our Biographers' Tea project where students choose a person who has influenced history and develop research, writing, and oral presentation skills or we follow the Iditarod race and write our own personal narrative about being a dog sled musher, I promote a classroom environment that is interactive and engaging for each student. I find relevant ways to differentiate individual lessons to reach all learners. I balance group work with individual work, and I draw upon hands-on activities in an effort to make students active learners who feel capable and successful.

Careful book selection and instruction of our texts while incorporating reading strategies help my students gain interest in literature during the early years of middle school. It’s important for them to see how to make better reading and writing connections. Grammar, spelling, and vocabulary is taught within the context of the student’s own writing. Peer editing is necessary in my classroom because some of the best ideas come from peer interaction. Recognizing the importance of 21st century technology and using it correctly, I incorporate the instruction of student-centered resources such as computers and tablets.

It has been said that to teach is to learn twice. I learn with and from my students. That is what makes teaching so exciting for me. Using the “heart” of teaching as my guide, it is important to make learning exciting for my students. I wish for them to understand that learning never ends, no matter our age. The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited - Plutarch.

Julie Janik

Middle School Social Studies & Language Arts, Middle School Theater
Master of Music, University of Cincinnati
Master of Arts, National Louis University
Master of Arts, Bowling Green State University
Bachelor of Music, University of Cincinnati

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 that is student-centered. This task, that I take very seriously, also includes providing my students with many learning skills and strategies to employ in and out of the classroom building confidence and pride in their own abilities.
- Julie Janik

“Students won’t always remember the content, but many will never forget how you made them feel.” This quote by Terry Heick, orignally published from “10 Things I Wish I Knew My First Year Of Teaching” in TeachThought, has influenced the way I teach and my own teaching philosophy. 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 that is student-centered. This task, that I take very seriously, also includes providing my students with many learning skills and strategies to employ in and out of the classroom building confidence and pride in their own abilities. With 15 years experience teaching in independent schools, I have been given the opportunity to implement my educational credo with unfailing guidance and support.

I believe in a curriculum and assessment that is student-driven and purposeful. Children do not all learn in the same way and must all be given various opportunities to succeed. I want students to be a part of what is being taught and take ownership of their work. I know my job as a teacher entails both delivering knowledge to the students and facilitating their academic growth by encouraging them to investigate, ask questions, and learn for themselves through real world applications. This can be seen in my 7th grade writing class. By requiring them to write essays for both the Chicago Tribune’s 1st Amendment essay contest and the VFW Patriots Pen essay contest, students are writing with purpose for real audiences.

Furthermore, I am convinced that learning should not be confined to the classroom. As a social studies teacher, I know the importance of creating real world experiences for my students. What better way to study our government at work than to take my students on a trip to Washington D.C. The Illinois state court system takes on meaning when we take our annual fieldtrip to the Illinois 2nd District Appellate Court right here in Elgin. The Underground Railroad in Northern Illinois becomes real when we journey to Naper Settlement and participate in their interactive simulation. History is transformed from being a boring subject about dates and faultless historical figures into fascinating dramas concerning real life human beings whose past actions have affected our lives today. In addition to teaching social studies, I also direct the middle school musical. With my musical background, I bring together students with many on and off stage talents and produce a theatrical experience of which all involved are proud and take ownership.

No one child is like another and so in all fairness, children must be treated as individuals and assessed on the basis of who they are and how they can best express themselves. Education is a journey and my objective is to equip learners with as much confidence, in-depth knowledge, and tools for learning 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, understanding, and success. 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.”

Mariam Nasser

Middle School Science
Bachelor of Arts, Lebanese American University

As a teacher, I am the students’ guide and facilitator, providing a safe environment for them to grow academically and socially, which is key to building their confidence. They are learning lessons of collaboration where they need to be flexible and participate fully in order for their group to succeed.
- Mariam Nasser

As a product of the private school environment, I am able to attest to the benefits and experiences my students will appropriate. My education and life journey has taken me all over the world, making me the global citizen that I am today. I was fortunate enough to live all over the United States; Dhahran, Yanbu, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Beirut, Lebanon; Katima Mulilo, Namibia; and Johannesburg, South Africa. I was also able to visit many European, Asian, Gulf and Middle Eastern countries because of the nature of my father’s job. These journeys and experiences have shaped who I am as a compassionate, empathetic, and over-arching educator and guide. It is my hope that this will transcend into my students’ educations, as more globally sensitive and accepting community thinkers and activists, as they realize how truly small the world is and how it will shape their characters as individuals.

As a teacher, I am the students’ guide and facilitator, providing a safe environment for them to grow academically and socially, which is key to building their confidence. They are learning lessons of collaboration where they need to be flexible and participate fully in order for their group to succeed. Students are expected to make mistakes and fail at times in order to reach true levels of success. This allows them to reflect and analyze shortcomings and implement new ideas that could be more successful. This substantially increases their level of understanding and reinforces that our classroom environment is safe and fair for necessary risk taking.

In the classroom, my goal is to provide a continuum of challenging, thought provoking and age-appropriate scenarios allowing students to explore the world. There is a strong emphasis placed on hands-on experiments that reinforce and build interest in concepts. For example we make clouds in bottles, crush cans to show air pressure movement, dissect, create rockets and launch them, and created self contained ecosystems. We also have to bring life to the abstract atomic and subatomic world, where they use inferences and models to understand making the abstract more concrete.

Our classroom is one of inquiry, observation and investigation, where we reflect on our conclusions and summarize the concepts we have learned. Every child has a unique approach to their work and brings valuable insights and makes important contributions to our collaborative teams. Their reflections are a culmination of insight and food for thought for the entire class.

Strategies for teaching are crucial in this ever changing 21st century learning environment. As a learner, I try to instill, in my students, the independence and fervor for inquiry-based learning in a safe environment. Once a week, science students participate in labs, where they ask questions using the scientific method. In both science and reading, there are ample avenues for differentiation to target all abilities and styles of learning and connections are established. The information assimilated in class is a stepping stone toward broader thinking and higher level questioning. They are able to employ critical thinking and problem solving skills in class discussions, independent work, and cooperative work. Everyday is a new day and my hope is that students learn the importance of their participation and collaboration in order to implement and analyze concepts while taking some risks to reach levels of success no matter the obstacles.

Sam O’Connor-Divelbiss

Middle School Science, Middle School Soccer Head Coach
Bachelor of Arts, Kalamazoo College
Masters of Science, University of Michigan
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