District 16 kicks off new year

Nearly all of District 16’s 700 employees filed into the Fine Arts Center at Spring Lake High School Tuesday to celebrate and prepare for the upcoming school year. The district’s two teachers of the year and the 2011 National Teacher of the Year addressed the assembly, urging them to remember that although teaching has its difficulties, when children succeed, it’s all worth it.

Madisen Dempsey, class of 2014, led fellow students in singing “You Raise Me Up.”
Madisen Dempsey, class of 2014, led fellow students in singing “You Raise Me Up.”Photos by Olivia Koester

Amanda Saum, a fourth-grade teacher at Westwood Intermediate School, spoke as the 2013 Elementary Teacher of the Year. Last year was Saum’s first year in the district. She reminded her fellow educators to find balance in their work because teachers “wear so many different hats every school day.”

Secondary Teacher of the Year Tricia Miller teaches seventh-grade world cultures and eighth-grade Spanish at Westwood Middle School. She called on her colleagues to “remember to take a breather and remember why we’re here”: the kids.

Saum and Miller accepted their respective honors in May after a competitive nomination and selection process.

The day’s keynote speaker, Michelle Shearer, a high school chemistry teacher from Maryland and the 2011 National Teacher of the Year, reflected on her year as representative of the nation’s teachers and tried to pin down what teachers’ goals and priorities should be with ever-changing expectations.

One common theme Shearer returned to again and again is the need to collaborate. “The hallmark of all of our successes is the ability to work together,” she said.

Teachers need to not only collaborate with one another, but also look for student input in lesson plans, Shearer said. “Often, they bring something to the table that we never thought of,” she said.

Shearer touched on common misconceptions that teachers abroad have a better educational formula than teachers in the United States and that technological advances reduce the need for educators.

Teachers in China, Japan and Singapore – countries Shearer visited during her year as National Teacher of the Year – had similar struggles as teachers in the United States, she said.

They, too, experiment with different diagrams, maps and models to determine on which learning strategies and skills they should focus in their limited time in the classroom, Shearer said.

Shearer’s personal formula involves working with students on a blend of school, life and work skills, she said.

Shearer believes technological innovation in the classroom benefits students, but she knows that a machine can’t replace student-teacher interaction. “A computer cannot talk a student out of dropping a class,” she said.

Olivia Koester is at
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