I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered.
I remember Jessica as an incoming fifth grader to our school, the oldest of five kids. When I had Jess in sixth grade, I could not imagine how her mom handled five kids -- all in elementary school.
Eventually, my wife (5th grade teacher) and I (6th grade teacher) had all five of those siblings in our classes and even led a few in the junior high youth group we started at our church. Over time, Jess, KK, and the whole family became our friends more than our students or school parents.
Back in the day, we would take kids out to eat or to our homes for lunch. Jessica remembers those times and marvels at how we put up with what could be called “childish behavior.” But the paper pickles, poking on the arm, and burnt brownies were part of a respectful banter that continues to this day. In JUMP (our jr hi group) my wife was Jess’s (and later KK’s) small group leader, which continued the relationship. In high school, Jess volunteered to help my wife in her class for two years, leading Celeste to mentor her further.
Today, we somehow found ourselves with free babysitting and lawn care (when I’m physically unable to do it myself) from the Ungerecht Family. Jess now lives in Indianapolis but makes it a point to come visit us for food and catching up when she is in town. We even had the joy of visiting Jess a couple years ago so she could show us around town.
When I had Jess ages ago, I’m not sure I could have looked to 2013 and seen this happen, but I’m glad it has. I wish I could say that my wife and I have poured ourselves into more of our students...but that would make an astronomical food bill. :)
Jess is in her third year of teaching at a charter high school in Indianapolis, where she focuses on special education and English. She works with numerous academic situations, from students with moderate cognitive disabilities reading at a 3rd grade level all the way to students working on an AP Lit level. On top of this, she is a special education case manager for 25 students. What I love is following her on Instagram and Twitter, seeing her interact with her students. There is always one young man, in particular, who seems to always be in her pics with a big grin on his face.
As a teacher, I admittedly relate best with the top third of the class. I struggle with communicating with and helping the students who struggle with the information. I always marvel at those who can naturally enjoy working alongside those with special needs. This is something Jessica has been working toward since her freshman year in high school. Now that she is in her third year of teaching she is seeing some fruit of her labor. By collaborating with other passionate colleagues and watching her core student base grow and mature, she is thoroughly happy with what she is doing.
Jess is taking this perspective of a real teacher/student relationship into her classroom, and this benefits her students. She sees that her students are real people that she can build into so they can be inspired for greatness as well.
This past summer, Jess was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which now is taking a lot of her non-school focus. However, she’s already determined she will beat it and is beginning treatments.
In the future, Jess would love to return to Jamaica, where she once on a missions trip in high school and once on a teaching trip while in college. Special ed students there are ignored and left to fend for themselves in school, and she would love to start a school especially for them.
It’s exciting to see Jess growing and pouring her life into her students. It’s fun to hear her stories of school antics. And I can’t wait to see what will happen next.
The first is from graduation with some of her now former students. The second is from one of her trips to Jamaica. My personal favorite is the third picture, from our trip to Indy to visit her. The last two are from her sixth grade year, and I'm realizing how good Weight Watchers was to me.
You can follow Jess on Twitter, but she told me her account is set to private. She has to be highly selective of who she allows to follow her due to her school’s social media regulations. Still, if you are a special ed teacher, thyroid cancer survivor, or lover of Jamaica or Bad Robot, she’ll probably let you in.