Wisconsin Teacher of the Year joins other top educators at ‘Teach-In for Freedom’ in El Paso

Sarahí Monterrey at the El Paso Teach-In

Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year – and WEAC Region 7 member – Sarahí Monterrey joined dozens of other state teachers of the year and hundreds of NEA members last weekend for the “Teach-In for Freedom,” an all-day event organized by Teachers Against Child Detention (TACD) to protest the inhumane detention of children at the Mexican border and the criminalization of immigrant families.

“The Teach-In in El Paso was a powerful experience because teachers were united to be a voice for the over 10,000 children who are in detention centers across our country,” Monterrey told weac.org. “This was not a protest but rather an opportunity to educate the public about immigration policies and the effects of these policies on children. 

“It was powerful to come together with educators from across the country who shared lessons on various aspects of immigration,” she said. “There were also community organizations present who are doing tremendous work to advocate for immigrant rights, and they provided excellent resources to the public.”  

Monterrey, interviewed by PBS News Hour, said the impact of the administration’s immigration policies reaches deep into her classroom in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She said she sees effects of trauma in her classroom, with students saying they are sad, can’t concentrate or have stomach aches.

It’s very difficult for students to learn,” Monterrey said. “And it’s very hard because, sometimes, even as an educator, it’s hard to find the right words of what to say, because, sometimes, I do feel helpless.”

With support from WEAC, Monterrey traveled to El Paso to participate in the teach-in, which was led by National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning. The goal was to shed light on the impact of child detention policies on the border, which TACD calls a “moral disaster.” The teach-in focused on the harm immigrant kids experience when separated from their families, and aimed to educate the country on why these families have fled from their home countries and how Americans can welcome them legally and contribute to their ongoing care and integration. 

NEA Today also covered the event, noting that educators and others have been outraged by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating immigrant and refugee children as young as 18 months old from their parents.

“Detained in more than 100 government detention centers across 17 states, these children have been denied access to public education, and likely will suffer irreparable, lifelong psychological damage, educators said. The practice also violates their fundamental right to seek asylum,” NEA Today reported.

In honoring Monterrey first as the State High School Teacher of the Year and then as Wisconsin’s representative for National Teacher of the Year, the Department of Public Instruction noted that, as a child immigrant from El Salvador, Monterrey recognizes the pivotal role teachers play in students’ lives.

“The power in making students feel welcome and safe cannot be underestimated,” she said. DPI noted:

Monterrey’s work on inclusion includes the visible, “Dreamers Welcome” and “This School Welcomes You” posters. Not as visible, but just as important, are her extra efforts to ensure a curriculum that is representative of various backgrounds so students feel inspired; her work to improve family communication so parents understand they are part of their student’s success; and her outreach to ensure that English learner (EL) students have access to extracurricular activities and support to be ready for college.

Watch the PBS News Hour report on the El Paso Teach-In:

Amid immigration debate, top teachers gather to protest child detention

Some of the nation’s top teachers recently gathered in El Paso, Texas, to speak out against the government’s practice of detaining children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Dismissing the notion that they shouldn’t get involved in political advocacy, teachers said they see some U.S. policy and procedures as “abusive.”

Read the NEA Today report:

At the Border, Teachers Protest Detention, Separation of Children – NEA Today

On a makeshift stage in El Paso, Texas, former Texas Teacher of the Year Leslie Anaya delivered a message to the roughly 15,000 immigrant children who are held captive in federal detention centers, where they are denied an education and separated from their mothers, fathers, and anybody else who loves them.

Read more about Sarahí Monterrey:

Sarahi Monterrey named a 2019 High School Teacher of the Year

MADISON – In a surprise ceremony at her school today, Sarahi Monterrey, an English Learner teacher at Waukesha North High School, was named a Wisconsin 2019 High School Teacher of the Year. State Superintendent Tony Evers made the announcement during an all-school assembly.

Memoninee Indian educator – and WEAC member – Benjamin Grignon is state’s 2019 High School Teacher of the Year

Benjamin Grignon stands by a traditional basket.

From the Department of Public Instruction

Benjamin Grignon

In a surprise ceremony at his school, Benjamin Grignon, teacher of traditional Menominee crafts at Menominee Indian High School in Keshena and a member of WEAC Region 3, was named a Wisconsin 2019 High School Teacher of the Year.

State Superintendent Tony Evers made the announcement during an all-school assembly. As part of the Teacher of the Year honor, Grignon will receive $3,000 from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation.

“Our teachers wear many hats, yet their dedication to children is constant,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “From the classroom to the conference room to the community, they focus on our kids and their education. It is an honor to recognize educators who do so much for Wisconsin’s students and our public schools.”

Herb Kohl, philanthropist, businessman, and co-sponsor of the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year program through his educational foundation, said he supports the program because “I want to help teachers pursue their unrealized goals for their classroom, their school, or their professional development.”

As a teacher of traditional arts, specifically Menominee arts, Grignon is unique in the world. “I work with students not only on the art forms of our people, but the language and cultural practices that go along with these arts,” he said. He works with science teachers to incorporate plant and mushroom identification and the chemistry of mordants and plants for dying weaving and basketry projects. Students learn geometry formulas as they design loom beadwork based on the geometric forms that are part of ancient Menominee aesthetics. “I am constantly finding opportunities to use our culture to reinforce other subjects in our school,” he said.

Grignon shows deep respect for the elder teachers, saying he strives to pass the knowledge on to the next generation of Menominee youth. “My students are taught about menacehaew (respect) for themselves, each other, and for the knowledge passed on to us from the elders.” He incorporates language learning into everyday tasks. Many of the expressions Grignon uses become a part of students’ everyday conversations, and students depend on the classroom community for help when they forget the Menominee language term for something.

“Within Menominee culture, we have a belief that you should never create something if your mind is troubled,” Grignon related. He uses classroom meditation to help students center themselves and offers alternatives for those who feel they cannot make art that day. These actions are part of his effort to create a safe place for students to learn and support programming to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are prevalent in the high-poverty district. Grignon notes that through traditional art and symbolism, students reflect Menominee history in their creations, but also their present and future. He says that the elements in students’ work, the symbols and colors they use, allow them to share something about themselves, the struggles they face, and the accomplishments they have achieved.

Grignon serves as vice chairman of the Menominee Language and Culture Commission. The panel oversees immersion efforts at the Menominee Tribal Daycare, which is using a program based on the Language Nest idea developed by the Maori of New Zealand. As co-founder of the Mawaw Ceseniyah Center for Language, Culture, and the Arts, Grignon helps lead traditional experiences such as maple tree tapping, wild rice gathering, and storytelling activities that unite the school and community. By working with the University of Wisconsin Extension, Grignon was able to establish a Menominee Immersion Club at the high school that uses language to cook healthy foods. His principal notes that Grignon’s positive effect on the student body afterschool is so great that he’s had to request special busing so students can get home. Principal Jim Reif also commends Grignon as a resource for non-Menominee educators, calling Grignon “an irreplaceable embodiment of what it means to be a revered Menominee leader and teacher.”

In addition to working at Menominee Indian High School, Grignon teaches community art workshops at East-West University and the College of Menominee Nation. He previously worked at the Menominee Tribal School in Neopit, teaching kindergarten through eighth-grade Menominee Language classes. He earned an associate’s degree in fine art from the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, N.M. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s of fine art from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Grignon earned his teaching certification through Concordia University’s Appleton campus.

Other educators named 2019 Teachers of the Year are:

Special Services Teacher of the Year
Michael Wilson, a school counselor at St. Croix Falls High School and a member of WEAC Region 1
Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Liz Gulden, a kindergarten teacher at Willson Elementary School in Baraboo
Middle School Teacher of the Year
Maggie McHugh of Sparta, a sixth-grade teacher and adviser at the La Crosse Design Institute
High School Teacher of the Year (two this year)
Sarahi Monterrey, an English Learner teacher at Waukesha North High School

 

‘How my mentor saved my professional life’

By Chris Gleason
2017 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year

Chris Gleason teaches instrumental music at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie, and is a member of WEAC Region 6. He is the 2017 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year and 2017 Finalist for National Teacher of the Year. http://www.chrispgleason.com/

The day before my first concert the student band was falling apart. I called my father, a veteran band director, for some last-minute advice. He said, “Write up something about the music and give it to a student to read to the audience before you play the piece.”

The next day, with the band assembled on stage and the crowd listening intently, one of my students walked up to the microphone, read the first sentence of my introduction, and then suddenly stopped. She glanced over at me with a puzzled look and then said into the microphone, “Oh, that’s what the piece is about.”

It was a devastating moment. I felt like a failure and wanted to melt away. Later that night, my father called and asked, “How did your first concert go?” I said, “I’m not sure I’m cut out for teaching.”

The remainder of the year didn’t go much better. In fact, by the end of the year, I was convinced that I had made a huge mistake and needed to find a new profession.

If anyone should have had an easy start in teaching, it should have been me. My father was a well-respected band director in Wisconsin, and my mother had earned her doctorate in educational leadership and served as a dean at a technical college.

Both my brother and my wife are music educators. I grew up in my father’s band room observing great teaching taking place every day. I attended an amazing high school and university that prepared me well for this profession.

Yet, after just one year I was ready to quit the only job I had ever wanted to do.

In a last-ditch effort to save my career, I registered for a weeklong summer teacher workshop. Patty, a veteran music educator and small group’s leader, told me “Teaching isn’t the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

In the days that followed, Patty, along with the other veteran teachers in the room, taught me how to light a fire in kids.

The professional development I received from those master educators saved my professional career and challenged me to become the educator I am today.

Teaching is one of the few highly-skilled professions that expect you to teach like a veteran your first day on the job.

There is no “wading into this pool” — rather, you jump into the deep end and trust that you can keep your head above water. Mentors like Patty are lifeguards who protect and assist young educators when they are most at risk.

A recent study found that “92 percent of teachers assigned a mentor their first year returned the next year, and 86 percent were on the job by the fifth year. Only 84 percent of teachers without mentors returned in the second year, declining to 71 percent in the fifth year.” I am confident that I would not be teaching if it had not been for Patty.

Professional development has a profound impact on new teachers. In addition to meeting mentors, as a first-year teacher, I had the opportunity to participate in authentic teacher-led professional development.

The workshop, Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance (CMP), just celebrated its 40th anniversary this past summer. CMP is developed and led by veteran music educators who volunteer their time for the benefit of teachers and students.

CMP and the teachers leading it have made the single biggest impact on my teaching.

Why? The course content comes from real classrooms and real teachers motivated by deep thinking, effective practice, and elevating the profession. It is the perfect example of exemplary teachers banding together to push teaching forward.

Policymakers can support projects such as CMP and amazing mentors like Patty by fully funding Title II under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

This funding makes it possible for states to offer evidence-based professional learning for districts, support teacher mentor training, target professional learning for teacher leaders, and support workshops such as CMP. Simply put, this funding provided me with resources that are part of the reason that I am still teaching today, 21 years later.

Our most important resource as a nation is our children and the potential that resides within them. The work of a teacher is to cultivate, nurture, and develop this potential to the fullest degree possible. As such, we must provide our youngest educators with the support they need to accomplish this difficult, complex and rewarding work. Thank you Patty for taking me under your wing and saving me.

Last year, we visited with Chris in his classroom and put together this video to celebrate his being named Teacher of the Year:

Sheboygan’s Matthew Miller to represent Wisconsin in National Teacher of the Year program

From the Department of Public Instruction

Inspired by a grandfather who worked on civil rights and progressive issues, Matthew W. Miller Sr., an English learner teacher at North High School in Sheboygan, pushes himself to make a difference in the lives of his students. Named Wisconsin’s 2018 Special Services Teacher of the Year last spring, he will represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year program. (Miller is a member of WEAC Region 3.)

“Matthew pushes himself to do more, so here he is our state’s representative to the National Teacher of the Year program,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “He focuses on providing students what they need to succeed and is an excellent role model for teachers in his school, the Sheboygan Area School District, and across our state and nation.”

“Teachers make such a difference in the lives of children,” said Herb Kohl, philanthropist and businessman, who co-sponsors the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year program through his educational foundation. “I am pleased to support our teachers in their efforts to help all children achieve.”

While living in Harlem in pursuit of his teaching degree, Miller offered tutoring or encouragement for the children of neighbors and workers. Later as a middle school English teacher, he learned that the more he served his students’ families, the more he earned his students’ respect and trust. When he moved to Sheboygan, Miller offered English classes to Spanish-speaking adults, many of them parents of students.

With a passion for leadership and community service, Miller has facilitated hundreds of leadership, service learning, and community-building projects for students in the district. He created the Hmong Leadership Collective, a statewide student-led group and an outgrowth of the district’s Hmong Leadership Council, which provides more than a thousand hours of community service. The collective seeks to strengthen Hmong culture, identity, and communities to positively transform society and build leadership skills. A teacher colleague noted that Miller helps Hmong students learn about and celebrate their own culture, while adapting to life in America.

While some would term his teaching style as “relationship building,” Miller says he is trying to be a “future builder.” He considers every learner a potential leader and tailors instruction to meet students’ individual language, leadership, and life needs. He says he’d like to incorporate leadership development into the high school curricula because leadership training would give youth a “crucial opportunity to discover some of the most significant growth they will ever experience, and our society some if its greatest future leaders.”

A former student wrote that “Mr. Miller not only showed me and many other students what a leader should be like, but also how to become a leader ourselves.” The student praised opportunities to volunteer with the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, attend leadership retreats and conferences, and participate in community arts collaboration as well as cultural and educational presentations. In a letter supporting Miller’s nomination for a Kohl Fellowship, North High School Associate Principal Eric Spielman said that Miller’s “greatest success is the deep, meaningful relationships he establishes with students, staff, families, and the greater Sheboygan community.” He added that Miller’s role with students extends beyond teacher, to mentor, friend, liaison, and advocate.

Miller’s grant writing for a precollege program through the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan provided a “Language and Leadership” summer program that boosted college readiness and civic engagement among area English learners from lower-income families. A project with Bookworm Gardens, a children’s book-themed community center and park, brought together elders in conversations with teens who then created visual, literary, and musical artifacts based on the elders’ stories. “Matthew inspires his students to do better, and he inspires teachers that way as well,” a colleague wrote. He leaves one “feeling that they can do more, do more for students, more for the school, and more for the community, and that doing more, for the sake of young people, matters.”

Miller began his career as an English teacher in New York City. He also taught at Hunter College in New York and for Northcentral Technical College and Upper Iowa University’s Wausau campus. For four years, he was an English teacher in Mexico City. He currently teaches English learners at North High School in Sheboygan. Miller earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Lawrence University in Appleton and a Master of Arts in Secondary Education-English from City University of New York-Hunter College.

As Wisconsin’s National Teacher of the Year representative, Miller will receive $6,000 from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation. He was among four educators named to the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year program in spring to represent the 2017-18 teaching corps. The others are Mary Ellen Kanthack, a fifth-grade teacher in the Genoa City J2 School District, Elementary School Teacher of the Year; Jill Runde, a school counselor at Indian Mound Middle School in McFarland, Middle School Teacher of the Year; and Brent Zinkel, a history teacher at Wausau East High School, High School Teacher of the Year. All four educators will be honored at a Capitol ceremony during the State of Education address at noon on September 21.

The National Teacher of the Year program began in 1952 and is the oldest national honors program that focuses public attention on excellence in teaching. The National Teacher of the Year will be chosen by a selection committee in spring 2018.

Sheboygan’s Matt Miller named state’s Special Services Teacher of the Year

From the Department of Public Instruction

In a surprise ceremony at his school, Matthew W. Miller Sr., an English learner teacher at North High School in Sheboygan, was named Wisconsin’s 2018 Special Services Teacher of the Year.

State Superintendent Tony Evers made the announcement during an all-school assembly. As part of the Teacher of the Year honor, Miller – who is a WEAC Region 3 member – will receive $3,000 from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation.

Matthew Miller

While some would term his teaching style as “relationship building,” Miller says he is trying to be a “future builder.” He considers every learner a potential leader and tailors instruction to meet students’ individual language, leadership, and life needs.

While living in Harlem in pursuit of his teaching degree, Miller offered tutoring or encouragement for the children of neighbors and workers. Later as a middle school English teacher, he learned that the more he served his students’ families, the more he earned his students’ respect and trust. When he moved to Sheboygan, Miller offered English classes to Spanish-speaking adults, many of them parents of students.

With a passion for leadership and community service, Miller has facilitated nearly 170 leadership, service learning, and community-building projects for students in the district. He created the Hmong Leadership Collective, a statewide student-led group and an outgrowth of the district’s Hmong Leadership Council, which provides more than 1,000 hours of community service. The collective seeks to strengthen Hmong culture, identity, and communities to positively transform society and build leadership skills. A teacher colleague noted that Miller helps Hmong students learn about and celebrate their own culture, while adapting to life in America.

A former student wrote that “Mr. Miller not only showed me and many other students what a leader should be like, but also how to become a leader ourselves.” The student praised opportunities to volunteer with the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, attend leadership retreats and conferences, and participate in community arts collaboration as well as cultural and educational presentations.

In a letter supporting Miller’s nomination for a Kohl Fellowship, North High School Associate Principal Eric Spielman said that Miller’s “greatest success is the deep, meaningful relationships he establishes with students, staff, families, and the greater Sheboygan community.” He added that Miller’s role with students extends beyond teacher, to mentor, friend, liaison, and advocate.

Miller’s grant writing for a precollege program through the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan provided a “Language and Leadership” summer program that boosted college readiness and civic engagement among area English learners from lower-income families. A project with Bookworm Gardens, a children’s book-themed community center and park, brought together elders in conversations with teens who then created visual, literary, and musical artifacts based on the elders’ stories.

“Matthew inspires his students to do better, and he inspires teachers that way as well,” a colleague wrote. He leaves one “feeling that they can do more, do more for students, more for the school, and more for the community, and that doing more, for the sake of young people, matters.”

Miller began his career as an English teacher in New York City. He also taught at Hunter College in New York and for Northcentral Technical College and Upper Iowa University’s Wausau campus. For four years, he was an English teacher in Mexico City. He currently teaches English learners at North High School in Sheboygan. Miller earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Lawrence University in Appleton and a Master of Arts in Secondary Education-English from City University of New York-Hunter College.

“Teaching is a career for optimists. People who see the potential in each student and meet challenges with innovative solutions that improve the lives and education of our kids,” Evers said. “A Teacher of the Year recipient inspires the young people in their school and their colleagues in the school and community. It is an honor to recognize educators who do so much for Wisconsin’s public schools.”

“The Teacher of the Year program highlights the many contributions educators make to our children, schools, and communities,” said Herb Kohl, philanthropist and businessman, who co-sponsors the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year program through his educational foundation. “Our teachers make extraordinary efforts to help all children achieve.”

Earlier this week, Evers named Genoa City’s Mary Ellen Kanthack (a WEAC Region 7 member) the state’s 2018 Elementary School Teacher of the Year, and last week he named Wausau’s Brent Zinkel the 2018 Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year. Zinkel is a member of WEAC Region 2.

On Monday, Evers named Jill Runde of McFarland the state’s Middle School Teacher of the Year.

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WEAC member Barbara VanDoorn of Lake Holcombe is Wisconsin Special Services Teacher of the Year

From the Department of Public Instruction

Barbara VanDoorn

Barbara VanDoorn

In a surprise ceremony at her school, Barbara VanDoorn, a school counselor at Lake Holcombe School, was named Wisconsin’s Special Services Teacher of the Year for the 2016-17 school year. Barbara is a member of WEAC and WEAC Region 1.

State Superintendent Tony Evers made the announcement during an all-school assembly. As part of the Teacher of the Year honor, VanDoorn will receive $3,000 from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation.

“Wisconsin needs talented individuals to teach in our classrooms and inspire our young people to seek out careers that will fulfill their dreams,” Evers said. “A Teacher of the Year recipient demonstrates an unwavering commitment to students, and it is an honor to recognize educators who do so much for Wisconsin’s public schools.”

“The Teacher of the Year program highlights the many contributions educators make to our children, schools, and communities,” said Herb Kohl, philanthropist and businessman, who co-sponsors the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year program through his educational foundation. “They are leaders who put forth extraordinary effort to help all children achieve.”

Having tended to students at Lake Holcombe School for 20 plus years, VanDoorn anchors her educational philosophy in the importance of showing respect, demonstrating caring, and recognizing the intelligence of individuals. “As educators, it is our job to identify the strengths and needs of each student. The counselor’s role is to take it one step further — advocating for each student in the classroom, the community, and in realizing each student’s future goals,” she said.

VanDoorn sees herself as the person who helps remove obstacles for students to reach postsecondary education opportunities at colleges, tech schools, or by entering the workforce with a career. She takes every junior on at least one college tour and put into place significant supports in ACT and reading prep. Finally, she sends every college freshman from the previous year’s graduating class a care package at school in the fall. “Their transition is often difficult; they need to know someone still has faith in them.”

VanDoorn looks at the K-12 experience as a long pathway of personal growth that includes opportunities for students to engage in meaningful community service. She pairs high school basketball players with first- and second-grade reading buddies; middle school students build a cardboard “shanty town” and sleep in it for a night as part of a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser.

High School Principal Mark Porter, who supported VanDoorn’s nomination as a Kohl Teacher Fellow, wrote that she is a busy lady who spends her time helping others. He described walking into a meeting where VanDoorn was coordinating nine clubs, businesses, and private individuals in a Santa Giving program that serves 80 students and their families. This was in addition to her work at school, leading book clubs for a couple private groups and building and maintaining websites for the school, golf club, a volunteer fire department, and nonprofit medical site.

Looking to the future, VanDoorn sees opportunities to provide mental health support to her rural community. Last fall, she was certified as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and has a vision for sharing the principles of mental health first aid as commonly as CPR training. She sees great promise in teaching youth, teachers, bus drivers, administrators, and parents how to access the tools they need to provide mental health support when it is needed the most.

VanDoorn graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout with a bachelor’s degree in Child Development and Family Life, and earned her Master’s of Education in Guidance and Counseling from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Evers will recognize VanDoorn as the Wisconsin Special Services Teacher of the Year during his State of Education address September 15 in Madison.

The award presentation was recorded live on Facebook by DPI:

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction – Timeline | Facebook

Lake Holcombe School Event

Milwaukee teacher Mai Shoua Xiong throws out ‘first pitch’ at Brewers game on National Teacher Day

Mai Shoua Xiong

Mai Shoua Xiong

To help celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week 2016, the Milwaukee Brewers invited Milwaukee teacher – and Wisconsin’s 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year – Mai Shoua Xiong to throw out the first pitch at Miller Park.

Mai, who is a member of WEAC and the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA), did an amazing job!

Thanks, Mai, for all you do! And thanks to all the great educators in Wisconsin public schools!

Watch more WEAC member videos and find out more about Teacher Appreciation Week.

Teacher of the Year Roger King plants seeds of knowledge at Holmen High School

By Christina Brey
WEAC Media Relations Officer

Roger King

Roger King

It takes more than knowing your content to be a great teacher. You have to connect. It’s a fine balance of art and science, and it’s what’s earned WEAC member Roger King recognition as Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year and our representative to the National Teacher of the Year program.

King has 31 years of agriscience teaching under his belt all at Holmen High School and he’s still making connections through learning. At the heart of his practice is the belief that you don’t have to grow up on a farm to embrace agriscience. The gate is always wide open, and that leads to unexpected paths.

Holmen High School senior Jameson Marcou discovered that his freshman year, when he reluctantly enrolled in an agriscience course. It wasn’t long before King found a way to inspire him.

“One day, Mr. King asked me what I was doing the next Saturday. He told me the FFA needed me – they needed someone to compete with them, and so I agreed to help,” said Marcou, who found himself on an early-morning bus with a crash course in making corsages and boutonnieres. “I didn’t know what I was getting into, but we made it to state and it was fun.

“There are so many stories like that,” said Marcou, now a vice president of the Holmen FFA and involved in animal and other projects. “Mr. King won’t stop until you find something that will make you happy – whether horses or mechanical grease. He even tries to get the middle schoolers involved. I’m bummed I didn’t start in middle school.

“He never stops,” Marcou continued. “I came to school at 6:30 this morning, and he was here. He is at all our events, and sometimes we won’t leave until 10 o’clock at night. He has his own family and farm, but he still stays.

“Mr. King brings knowledge and connections to better the program,” Marcou said. “His style is hands-on, definitely, rather than pencil-and-paper.”

“He is really busy,” agreed senior Paige Storlie. “But he doesn’t show it. If you need help, he makes time for you.”

Agriscience in schools

Storlie, who is running for FFA state office this summer, said King has inspired her to be a voice for the importance of agriculture education.

“In one of our Food for America events for elementary kids, someone asked where eggs came from,” Storlie said. “A lot of schools don’t have agriculture teachers anymore, and students don’t have the opportunity to learn where food comes from and how you grow it. That’s essential to know. That’s important.”

In fact, with Wisconsin’s public schools seeing some of the largest cuts to funding in the nation, communities are cutting non-tested programs – such as agriscience – at alarming levels. In schools that retain their programs, qualified agriscience teachers are often difficult to attract and keep as other districts vie for their expertise. While Holmen has retained an extensive program in large part due to staff efforts and community support, nearby schools have downsized or ended their programs.

But in Holmen, the Farm 2 School program thrives, providing locally grown food for the district’s lunch program. From raising chickens and calves to planting and harvesting potatoes, King oversees it all.

“Mr. King’s played a big part in my high school career,” said another FFA Vice President Laura Munger, who attends Holmen High School through open enrollment because of its agriscience program and plans to study pre-medicine or pre-veterinary science after graduation. “He goes out of his way to help you accomplish what you’re passionate about. He’s created a huge family here.”

And it felt like family when the FFA piled onto the bus for the National FFA convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Fifty-seven people from southwestern Wisconsin were in tow, including King, 17 Holmen FFA members, two parents, two FFA Alumni members, two other Holmen FFA advisors and other representatives from five area schools.

A way of life

His class mirrors rural school culture. Sign-up sheets for concessions line the walls, as King – who also coaches freshman football – oversees them to raise money for the FFA program. At the back of the room, dehydrators line the wall emitting the smell of jerky as students learn to make their own snacks.

He cooks venison bologna for lunch in his classroom while a steady stream of students and staff pose questions about upcoming conferences and projects. He takes time to answer a text from an agriscience teacher in another district with a question about lighting in a school greenhouse.

King grew up on a Mosinee dairy farm, and that central Wisconsin value of neighbor-helping-neighbor is woven into his classroom. Students and community partners know they can drop in, study, eat lunch or share stories.

“It’s a really unique connection we have here,” King said. “It’s something that doesn’t happen accidentally. It’s built on mutual trust and benefit for the greater good.”

King’s commitment to students goes beyond his classroom doors. He and his wife Diane open their small farm to students who need a place to raise animals or work on projects and volunteer in the school garden. Diane is employed in the school district’s nutrition services, grew up on a farm herself, and is the FFA co-advisor. The pair has raised four children, each of whom has attended Holmen schools and been involved in community 4-H and FFA.

“I believe you’re missing out as an educator if you don’t have that community connection,” King said.

Respect for teachers, agriscience in schools

King will use his platform as a Teacher of the Year to promote respect for the teaching professions.

“Educators are a valued part of everyone’s success in a community,” he said. “I don’t care who you are – you had a teacher that helped you along the way. If you didn’t do something right, a teacher was there to assist you.

“We’re taking the job of an educator for granted,” he continued. “We need to look at that and re-assess.”

That belief also drives King’s desire to provide mentoring to the next generation of teachers – including rebuilding Wisconsin’s corps of agriscience teachers. King helped write the Wisconsin agriscience education standards and evaluates other schools’ programs to make sure they are high quality. He is active in the Wisconsin Association of Agriculture Educators and the National Association of Agriculture Educators, which share common ground with WEAC in working for solutions to crushing student loan debt that can deter promising educators from becoming teachers. “It’s about problem-solving together,” he said. “Helping each other.”

He’ll also bring awareness for agriculture in schools. “Agriculture programs need to stay in schools so children know where their food comes from,” King said, setting up for his next student test by emptying a plastic tub containing 50 essential pieces of equipment to keep animals healthy onto lab tables.

Worthy honor

King said he never forgets that the next student who walks through his door may be one whose life he can change. “My hope when they leave is that they’ve seen something that spurred them in the classroom, they’ve utilized it and it drives their thought process,” he said.

And, while recognition at the state Capitol and the promise of plenty of national acclaim this year are exciting, perhaps the most fitting honor happened this fall when he rode in the Holmen Homecoming Parade with banners and fanfare.

“Mr. King deserves the recognition,” Storlie said. “He loves teaching. Some days I spend more time with Mr. and Mrs. King than my own family.”

“This room is like my second home,” added Munger. “It’s because of Mr. King. He loves teaching.”

“I do love teaching,” agreed King. “I live what I teach.”

Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, 2 students learn value of team-building at Space Camp

Reprinted from the DPI-ConnectEd newsletter

Diana Callope and students Nicole Sedmak and Alisha Parboteeah returning from “space.”

Diana Callope and students Nicole Sedmak and Alisha Parboteeah returning from “space.”

A real-world taste of the power of team-building was the gift brought home from Space Camp last month by Wisconsin’s 2014-15 representative to the National Teacher of the Year Program and two students she brought with her.

WEAC member Diana Callope thought it “was so fantastic” that a grown-up week at Space Camp, in Huntsville, Alabama, was included in the National Teacher of the Year Program that “I talked to my husband a little, and I said, ‘This would be such a cool experience for students to go,’ and because [Wisconsin Teachers of the Year] were so generously supported by the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation, I put aside some money to sponsor a student.”

She held a random drawing to decide which interested student from Whitewater Middle School would get to go. In the end, the family of a second student — who discovered a passion for the idea along the way — sent her as well.

Callope spent a week with other Teachers of the Year as well as educators from other countries; meanwhile, the students collaborated with their own peers from around the world.

All three had a similar favorite takeaway: the power, or the fun, of working together.

“I try to do a lot of collaboration in my classroom,“ Callope noted in a telephone interview with DPI-ConnectEd. But after an intense week where “everything we did” focused on teamwork — not only dedicated team-building exercises but also high-tech NASA simulations like docking a space craft at the international space station — this math teacher playing the role of student discovered how much she needed to understand how to work with her team members.

Going back to school this fall, she’s bringing a sense that the first step in many group assignments should be “taking the time to give students a chance to build a collaborative team” through specialized exercises … “Instead of just saying, ‘You need to collaborate on this project,’ when they don’t really understand each other very well.”

Callope remembers an exercise where her group had to navigate themselves across three raised platforms, with restrictions on how they could communicate. The activity allowed team members to gauge each others’ learning styles, strengths, and personalities before navigating more technical, STEM-based challenges like building heat shields to stop an egg from cooking under extreme conditions.

Team-building activities also allowed the English Language Learners in the bunch to feel more comfortable before jumping into specialized content.
“There is so much need for communication and collaboration and making those connections with each other, to have real learning happen,” Callope observed.

And collaboration remains relevant for professionals in STEM fields as well:

“There were opportunities to eat dinners where there were actual NASA engineers and actual rocket scientists … One woman there said her favorite part of her job was when there’s something new they have to figure out and they have to collaborate and communicate — even she said that’s a huge part of their job sometimes.”

Callope is “totally stealing” many of Space Camp’s team-building activities for her class, but most important is the big idea: learning to work together, as a powerful tool for learning just about anything else.

Teacher of the Year Diana Callope says teaching is about ‘making connections’

By Christina Brey

“I wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. Teaching is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.”

SONY DSCListen to this American Education Week message from Diana Callope:
[audio: http://weac.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/AEW.mp3]

Visit the WEAC American Education Week resource page at weac.org/aew.

For 2015 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year Diana Callope, dreams of teaching began in the second grade. As a teacher for 23 years, she’s followed her vision straight to the top of her profession and is now proud to represent the state’s teachers on a national platform.

A middle school math teacher, she has a serious expression that’s quick to turn to a smile after some one-on-one help for a tough pre-algebra problem. Her brown eyes and raised eyebrows are well-practiced for waiting patiently for someone… anyone… to take a crack at answering a question on the Promethean Board. She just belongs in the classroom.

Sure, she has other interests like architecture (she designed her family’s house on graph paper), and thinks about opening a bakery someday – but nothing comes close to teaching. “I’ve never felt pulled anywhere else,” she said.

Rooted in Childhood

Her pull to math stems from the teachers she’s had throughout her childhood. She recalls a third grade teacher who used differentiation to reach students — before differentiation was mainstream.

Her first taste of teaching came in the fourth grade, after her math teacher realized student Callope already knew how to do long division and asked her to model it to the class. “That stuck in my head,” Callope said.

Committed to Whitewater

Whitewater Middle School, housing sixth, seventh and eighth grades, is the only teaching environment Callope knows. She teaches mostly eighth graders now, but is skilled in reaching students at all levels of achievement during those awkward preteen years.

Callope, who grew up in Pennsylvania, said consistency and stability are especially crucial in our schools. “I had the same teacher in seventh, eighth and ninth grades for pre-algebra, algebra and geometry, which is ironic because that’s what I teach today,” she said. “Mrs. Clark was the most incredible teacher I had. She cared.”

She’s quick to point out that seventh grade pre-algebra was also where she met her husband.

“We send Mrs. Clark Christmas cards every year, and I sent her a special letter after being named Teacher of the Year to let her know,” Callope said. “I was not sure I ever expressed my gratitude for the difference she’s made in my life, and needed to do that.”

Moving to Wisconsin with her family from Pennsylvania to start college, she landed at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and, one year later, married her childhood sweetheart from seventh grade pre-algebra. She took three years off of school while he finished his degree, and the pair started their family. Then, it was back to UW-Whitewater to finish her teaching degree.

She completed her field study with Whitewater teacher Bill Kuster as a student and has taught within the same school with him ever since landing her first job.

Making Connections

“The most important element to teaching is making connections,” Callope said. “What gives students the momentum to continue learning is that they know their teacher cares about helping them succeed. It means more to them when they know it matters to you.”

“It’s not something you learn,” she said. “It’s something you have.  A teacher can be the best in her content area, but for a student, that’s not what sticks in their mind when it comes to a great teacher. A great teacher cares, and students know it.”

Wisconsin Teacher of the Year

“This has been a humbling experience, to be singled out when I know there are thousands and thousands of incredible teachers out there,” she said. “It has revitalized me to have the validation that what I do is worthy and good. I feel lifted up again.”

Callope, like all teachers, places more value on the impact she’s had on students’ lives than awards or honors. Near the top of her most memorable moments are visits from former students who needed to tell her she made a difference in their lives.  A child she championed who “didn’t really fit in” during the middle school years returned a decade later to tell her he was successful and happy. “He wanted me to know how much he appreciated someone standing up for him,” she recounted.

Another student who wouldn’t listen to her counsel and dropped out of school came back years later to tell her that he was finally going to get his GED. “He dropped everything in his arms when he saw me and gave me a big hug,” she said. “He told me, ‘I wanted you to know I’m doing it now.'”

“You see, sometimes they just come back and let me know how they’re doing,” she continued. “It’s not always a big story. Sometimes it’s just stopping in to say hi. But it’s all the same.”

Being a Teacher Today

“One of the challenges of being a teacher today is we’re expected to do more and more and more with less and less and less,” Callope said. “School districts get less funding for a variety of reasons, there are more things to do, and the other things that are already expected of teachers haven’t gone away.”

“I come to school earlier. I stay later,” she explained. “I take more work home – you have to in order to stay caught up and to do your job well.”

Callope expressed concern that Wisconsin is on the edge of a teacher shortage at the same time the state has experienced a massive loss of experience as longtime educators left the classroom over the past couple of years. Along with that, there’s a new type of teacher in Wisconsin. Those generally with 10 years or less experience are becoming “transient,” traveling from district to district for improved pay, collaboration and respect. The days of a one-district teacher in Wisconsin – the educator who teaches generations of family members – is on the way out.

“My hope is that we come to look at public education as not the sole responsibility of teachers,” Callope said, noting she’ll place much emphasis this year on collaboration with parents. She’ll also be a voice for common sense when it comes to implementing a wide range of new initiatives facing Wisconsin teachers. “I will urge administrators and school boards to be sensitive to scheduling so they allow teachers a chance to collaborate and get their work done.”

Callope said it’s essential that Wisconsin be pro-active to improving public schools and not reactive. “There needs to be a sense of reasonableness,” Callope explained. “There are good ideas, but to be accomplished and done well they must be given time and resources. The alternative is mediocrity. I fear we’re teetering on this.

“In the end, teachers care about their students and need the resources to inspire them to learn. I really think it’s important to try to motivate students to make them want to be here, to make them want to be successful in whatever realm that might be. That’s what I do. If that makes me exceptional, then I’m proud of that. This is just what I do, and how I do it, and I’ll keep going.”

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