Middle School

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Doug Sept

Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs
Master of Science, University of Kentucky
Bachelor of Science, Missouri University of Science and Technology

Students must feel comfortable before they can learn. I expect my classroom to be an environment where students are allowed to take risks. I look for situations when I can look at a problem for the first time with students and model for them how to try and potentially fail in finding the right solution, only to rebound and try new ideas
- Doug Sept

I do not simply teach mathematics; I teach students. I teach students to become critical thinkers, to accept and overcome frustration, and to feel confident in proposing solutions. I teach students about the importance of honest self-assessment, how to celebrate accomplishments, and when to humbly admit that they are having difficulties. I teach students to take the time to listen and value other ideas, to respectfully disagree, and how to act when someone else disagrees with them. I teach students to use their resources and to master appropriate technology as well as to discern when to forego technology because they have the internal tools to solve a problem. In order to accomplish all of this, I use mathematics as the primary vehicle.

Students must feel comfortable before they can learn. I expect my classroom to be an environment where students are allowed to take risks. I look for situations when I can look at a problem for the first time with students and model for them how to try and potentially fail in finding the right solution, only to rebound and try new ideas. I applaud students who find my mistakes, be they intentional or accidents, because having them critique my work builds in them the ability to scrutinize their own.

I believe that homework should be a safe place to make mistakes. After learning about a new concept, the initial homework assignment involves students checking their own answers. I let the students know that immediate mastery is not the goal, but that attempting every problem is what is important. During every class period, there is a time for students to ask questions as a whole or as individuals. When I informally assess that a certain level of mastery has been reached by the majority of students, I formally assess them through a quiz. If a few individuals struggle, I work with them one-on-one to increase their understanding and confidence. If the majority of the class struggles, I discern what I could have done differently and implement an alternate approach to teaching the material.

Building genuine relationships with students is paramount to successful teaching. Although the focus of our initial relationship is through mathematics, I need to show that I care about them as a person outside of their mathematical performance. I greet students by name as they arrive in class and wish them a good day as they leave. I also acquaint myself of their involvement in activities both in and out of school. This allows a common ground for discussions beyond mathematics – talking about a recent athletic event, an impressive piece of artwork or creative performance, or simply asking what they did that weekend and listening to and caring about their answer builds a personal bridge through which great learning can happen.

Overall, I expect my students to leave my class having mastered the material and prepared themselves for future mathematics courses, but I also expect them to leave my class having learned how to be better, more confident learners in all areas.

Andrew (Drew) Roling

Middle School Dean of Students, Middle School Math & Science
BA, University of Iowa
MA, University of Northern Iowa

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

Director of Personalized Learning
Bachelor of Arts, DePaul University
Masters of Arts, Adler School of Professional Psychology

My philosophy as a school counselor is the belief that every student can succeed. Learning is a lifelong process and I want to help students foster a positive self-image all in collaboration with the school, home, and community. My goal as the school counselor at EA is to provide a safe place for all students and to address every student's intellectual, emotional, and social needs.
- Helen Elayan

Mary Bayer

Upper School Theater & History, Middle School Theater
MS, Illinois State University
MA, St. Mary's University
BA, 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.

Heather Bragg

MS English/Language Arts
BS, University of Oklahoma
MA, Northwestern University

Suzy Ceci

Lower School & Middle School Spanish, Middle School Theater
MA, Universite de Toulouse Le Mirail
BA, Universite Stendahl

When I teach my students to speak French or Spanish, I fancy myself doing a bit more than simply teaching them the skills to express themselves in those languages. I envision myself poking a hole in the language drapery, to enable them to peep at the conglomerate that makes it up: people, culture, land, history, and much more.
- Suzy Ceci

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart" Nelson Mandela) I love this quote by Nelson Mandela because I do believe that a special connection happens when one speaks to a person in his own language. To me, that heart connection emerges when we understand language as being more than what the Webster dictionary defines as “A system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other”. Languages live. They own people and land, have customs and idiosyncrasies that cannot be explained, only accepted. They evolve; constantly interacting with and borrowing words and expressions from each other, and yes, languages become extinct from underuse.

When I teach my students to speak French or Spanish, I fancy myself doing a bit more than simply teaching them the skills to express themselves in those languages. I envision myself poking a hole in the language drapery, to enable them to peep at the conglomerate that makes it up: people, culture, land, history, and much more. None of it happens overnight but time is of essence. Every language is someone’s treasure box, filled over the course of a lifetime, which we get to share with them. However, before any of my students can touch a native speaker’s heart, they have to learn to speak, which I encourage them to do right from the start. I use lots of prompting, repetitions, and movement. Eventually, one-word answers become full sentences, and prompted answers become spontaneous ones.

Learning to speak another language is scary, much like jumping at the deep end of the swimming pool without knowing how to swim. This is where music comes in handy. We use songs for everything in our classroom, whether to say that we are hungry or to describe people, to talk about the weather or to ask someone’s age, and tell how old we are. My students can sing many of the useful expressions they need long before realizing what they are doing. Later on, slowing down to speaking those is the easy part.

Aside from singing, my students acquire language through play, hands on activities, using it in context. The goal is to commit as much of the students’ learning to their automatic memory early (younger grades), so that they can access it down the road (in Middle School, Upper School… life) to discuss all sorts of topics like art, food, or make lively presentations about world pollution in front of our school green screen as my 5th grade class of the year 2012/13 did.

So what’s the big deal with learning other languages when English is spoken around the world? A heart connection. The thing with the heart is that it loves reciprocated feelings and when it receives them, there is much goodwill to go around the world doing good work as a global citizen.

Veronica Clements

Middle School & Upper School Videography/Visual Arts, Upper School Girls Soccer - Head Coach
BFA, 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.

Carolyn Dunoon

Middle & Upper School French
Bachelor of Arts, Illinois College
Masters of Arts, Middlebury College

I love to teach! I have been teaching since 1974 and cannot get tired of the pleasure of working with young people to learn French. I want to create an atmosphere of acceptance, curiosity, and a solid work ethic. It is very important to me to add enrichment - music, art, film expressions of the week, and more. I am very happy to be at Elgin Academy with such fine students and staff. Every one of my students has a different level of language proficiency. I will take them from where they are and lead them to success. We will all be francophiles and not only of France but the many countries where French is spoken.
- Carolyn Dunoon

Heidi Hamilton

Lower School PE Teacher, Extended Day Coordinator

Jody Ireland

PEAK Multi Sensory Language
BA, Augustana College

Sam O’Connor-Divelbiss

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

I appreciate and practice scientific ways of interpreting the world around us. I love learning about science and I enjoy working with students as they learn new concepts in science and math. I have come to understand the importance of providing resources and guidance for students to build the skills they need to support their learning in order to actually engage in doing science. Leading students to question, investigate & engage in inquiry, and discuss ideas is a great deal of fun for me, even as it serves to get my students practicing as working scientists.
- Sam O’Connor-Divelbiss

Craig Pinson

Athletic Director, Middle School PE Teacher
Bachelor of Science, Northern Illinois University
Master of Science, Ohio University

Being part of the Elgin Academy community is an amazing experience. I could not be more proud to represent this campus and these students in the classroom and on the field.
- Craig Pinson

Jennifer Sampson

Middle School English
BA, Kenyon College
MA & PhD, University of Chicago

Melanie Shaffer

Music & Arts Band Instructor
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