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.

Janet Hughes

5th & 6th Grade Dean of Students, 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.

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

Katherine Kruse

Director of International Studies, ELL Teacher
Bachelor of Arts, Northern Illinois University
Master of Science, Northern Illinois University

I am passionate about fostering cultural diversity through student exchange and international education. It is my mission to enhance cultural perspectives, mutual respect, and global responsibility through building programs and services for the development of international students, local students and the greater community of Elgin.
- Katie Kruse

Mary Bayer

Upper School Theater & History, Middle School Theater
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.

Heather Bragg

MS English/Language Arts
BS, Elementary Education, University of Oklahoma
MA, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University

Suzy Ceci

Lower School & Middle School Spanish, Middle School Theater
Master of Arts, Universite de Toulouse Le Mirail
Bachelor of Arts, 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.

Janine Chouinard

Middle School Language Arts & Spanish
Bachelor of Arts, Oberlin College

Language, whether in written or spoken form, is essential to understanding human interaction. As a teacher, I hope to develop my students’ capacities to communicate empathetically and competently across all mediums.
- Janine Chouinard

Veronica Clements

Middle School & Upper School Videography/Visual Arts, US Soccer Head Coach
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.

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

Mariam Nasser

Middle School Science & Math
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 & 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

Middle School Athletic Director, Lower School & Middle School PE Teacher, MS Boys Baseball - Head Coach
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

Christopher Roettger

Middle School Social Studies
Bachelor of Science, Taylor University

My role as a teacher is to equip the students for the journey of lifelong learning. It is their job as students to take the steps forward on that journey. Together we can carry on to the goal of a better future.
- Christopher Roettger

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