Florence J. Clark Award for Excellence in Middle School Teaching
About the Award: This award recognizes two outstanding middle school teachers in the Lincoln Public Schools. Middle school teachers honored by the award demonstrate excellence in middle school teaching and work toward continuous improvement in student achievement and development.
Awarded Amount: $5,000
Nominated By: Self-Nomination
Please describe why you believe you are an outstanding middle schoolteacher. This year I will complete my 35th year of teaching for LPS. All 35 years of my career have been spent in the same grade level - teaching 6th grade! That's quite unheard of among teachers. When I tell people I teach 6th grade, it's often met with "bless you" or "I could never teach that age" but I have absolutely loved every minute of these 35 years and can't imagine teaching another grade level. The energy, curiosity, innocent, orneriness, and desire to learn that is present in middle schoolers is what drew me to teach this level. Middle School is also a time when students are learning so much about themselves but without the benefit of a developed frontal cortex. It's an honor to help students learn that mistakes and struggles are an important part of learning how to be an independent adult.
I chose to teach middle school students because of the profound impact one of my own teachers had on my life. He saw below the rough surface of a girl who came from a dysfunctional family and helped me to recognize that I did have worth. Throughout my career, I have strived to be that same type of teacher to my students. A teacher that sees the potential in everyone, that guides students to develop their strengths, one who guides them through tough times and helps them realize how to use difficulties as learning experiences. I often share with parents that teaching life skills is just as important to me than the curriculum. What a joy it is to watch my students blossom into outstanding young adults who make a difference in the world!
About 10 years into my career, LPS formed a "Middle SchoolCommittee" to begin studying the possibility of moving to a middle school model in Lincoln. I was thrilled to be a part of this committee that was directed by Dennis VanHorn. At this point in my career, I was teaching 6th grade at Rousseau Elementary. Prior to that, I had taught at Hartley Elementary(1986-1990) and Humann Elementary (1990-1995). I learned so much during my time on this committee and helped provide professional learning about middle level education across the district. In 2002, I was blessed to be hired at ScottMiddle School to teach the first LPS 6th grade class housed in a middle school. In 2017, I was again blessed to have the privilege of opening a second new school - Moore MiddleSchool. Throughout my career, I have lived and breathed middle-level education - it's who I am.
What innovative techniques do you use to encourage and stimulate interest and learning from your students? When I began teaching in 1986, sixth grade was housed in elementary schools across the district. Although I was teaching in an elementary school, the teams I worked with definitely embodied the "middle-level philosophy". We worked together to plan integrated, multi-disciplinary units that kept students engaged, learning, and having fun at the same time.
1. A two-day, overnight trip to Camp Kitaki. This was an end of the year activity at the first school I taught at–HartleyElementary. Our students were able to experience so many wonderful activities there. Archery, Horseback riding, canoeing, nature art, entomology, bats, folk singing, and talent shows were some of them. Pulling in volunteers from the district office, the community, and our students' parents made these trips successful and packed with learning. WhenI left Hartley to open Humann Elementary, I was able to continue the Camp Kitaki experience for our 6th graders. We stepped it up a notch and began having the students "earn"the funds to pay for the trip. I supervised weekly popcorn sales thanks to our partnership with Donn Steinbach at ColbyRidge. 6th graders took orders and delivered the popcorn on Fridays. Our schools' partnership with Campbell's Nurseries allowed us to sell flowers in the spring to raise funds as well.A favorite activity was having the students use math skills while following recipes to make dog treats.
2. Galaxy Unit - this was an interactive unit involving the study of space. Students were placed on teams and given"roles" within the Galaxy. So many skills were reinforced while they engaged in the activity. Learning became fun because they were experiencing it not just reading about it. My favorite memory of this unit is when one of our "shy, introverted" students was assigned to be a security guard fora dignitary in the galaxy. She came to school in a black suit, white shirt, dark sunglasses, and fedora hat dressed to play her part. We saw her emerge from her shell that day and her confidence blossomed.
3. Baby Week - While teaching the Human Development unit in health, I had my students take care of a toy doll for a week.This was back in 1990 before the invention of the mechanical dolls high school students are now using. They had to keep a journal of activities they did with their child and completed a household budget to learn about expenses. Students even experienced their babies "throwing up" on their math assignment so it had to be redone as homework. One of my student's parents nominated me for an award based on this unit. I was chosen as the "Sexuality Educator of the Year" in1990 - the first elementary teacher to have been given the award.
4. Immigration Unit - History came alive during this unit for the 6th graders at Rousseau Elementary. (I began teaching there in 1995) As students learned about the ethnic groups that immigrated to the United States during the late 1800sand early 1900s, we decided to make the experience of Ellis Island come alive for them. We transformed the cafeteria/gym into Ellis Island. Students were given"identities" to portray as they traveled through the different stations. Again, many community members helped out with this experience.
5. March Madness - This is one of my favoriteinter disciplinary units and one that I've taught for the last 25 years of my career at three different buildings. As a way to take advantage of the hype and notoriety of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, I created the "March Madness" unit. Groups of students are assigned a "bracket number" for the tournament. When the participating teams are announced, the students research the college in their bracket spot. Students learn about the requirements to attend that college, where it is located, the cost of tuition, famous alumni, and the history of the college. They practice letter writing skills and actually send a letter to the college requesting information. In Math class, they find the win percentages for each team. Fight songs for the colleges are sung during music class. An art activity has included drawing the colleges' mascot. Groups then create a poster about their college. When I first began using this unit with my teaching teams, we invited the students and parents to watch the championship game at school in the evening. The first few years we were able to get a big screen tv loaned to us for the night. We even had half-time entertainment games with students competing against parents.
In addition to these interactive units that stimulate interest and engagement for students, I have been at the forefront of using technology in the classroom. In the early 1990s, I attended an instructional conference and learned about an online resource that could be used in the classroom - Quia. This tool allowed teachers to create websites These websites provided a myriad of instructional tools that were useful for my students, their parents, and for me.
Online assessments quickly became protocol in my classroom. These online assessments gave students immediate feedback and also allowed me the time to devote to an in-depth analysis of the results. Students were able to use technology at home for review and enrichment activities. Parents were able to access a calendar of activities to stay abreast of what was being taught in the classroom.
Due to my early interest and success with technology use in the classroom, I am constantly learning about new ways to engage students in the classroom with the use of technology - something that is second-nature to them.
Describe how you have contributed to the growth and development of another staff member at your school. I am a learner at heart. I consistently look for new ideas, methods of teaching, and technology resources to improve my skills. I push myself to continually find ways to improve my craft. Because of this desire to learn, I am willing to try things out that are new. Throughout my career, I have jumped at the chance to be on committees and try new roles.I feel I have had the most influence on co-workers in the area of technology.
As I mentioned earlier, I began incorporating technology into my classroom 30 years ago with the use of Quia. My passion for this use of technology quickly spread to my teammates. I began sharing activities that I had created online. Soon others were using the service as well. To help my colleagues, I taught staff development sessions related to Quia in my building and across the district.
As the use of technology evolved in LPS, I took on leadership and coaching roles. I was an Instructional Technology Coach at Scott MS and Moore MS. I currently serve as theTechnology Leader at Moore Middle School in addition to teaching 6th grade Science. My desire to learn and help others drives me to be a strong resource for coworkers in my building. I love that they feel comfortable coming to me with questions when they have them.
I just wanted to share how extremely difficult it was to answer these questions. First of all, to pick out a few examples from a 35 year career was hard. There are so many memories of watching my students grow, learn, and evolve into young adults before my eyes. My teaching was only a small part of their lives. I have felt blessed to have been a tiny piece of each of my students’ journeys and to have been able to watch them unfold into remarkable adults. Secondly, it is really hard for me to “toot my own horn” so to speak. Not something that I am comfortable doing. Hitting that final “submit” took a lot of courage. Thank you for reading and considering my answers.