Eight Questions for Iowa’s Teacher of the Year
Jane Schmidt, an eighth-grade literacy and language arts teacher at Maquoketa Middle School, has been named the 2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year. Schmidt, a 33-year teaching veteran, serves as a teacher mentor at her school and, in a new role this fall, she coaches educators, refines curriculum and gauges the effects of teaching practices across the school district. She has two master’s degrees and earned National Board Certification in 2004.
Schmidt lives in rural Delmar with her husband, Brian, and two black Labrador Retrievers, Ozzie and Annie. She has three grown children: Kate, Ben, and Sam. Her hobbies include reading, writing, baking and riding a four-wheeler around the farm.
1. You spent years in special education, and have segued to literacy. Why the change?
Through my work with special needs students, I discovered a passion for both reading and writing, which led me to pursue my endorsements in both reading and language arts as well as National Board Certification in the area of Early Adolescence English Language Arts. I wanted to expand the number of students I was working with in order to share my enthusiasm for literacy. Many special needs students are integrated in the general education classroom, and with my background in special education, it helps me to assist them to be successful through differentiation of instruction. In May, I completed my second Master’s in Education from Western Illinois University in the area of Educational Leadership in order to take on other leadership opportunities and share my passion for teaching with other educators. As a teacher, I can be a part of making changes in my classroom and in my building, but in order to assist with district-wide changes I felt I needed to attain my master’s degree in Educational Leadership. I felt strongly that I wanted to assist with school improvement in our district.
2. What is your No. 1 highlight in teaching?
Maintaining enthusiasm throughout my career while always striving for continuous improvement. These two qualities have kept me in the teaching profession over these many years. It is exciting to watch students become fluent readers and reflective writers. I love to integrate technology to inspire students along the road of learning. It is gratifying to see students achieve success and find their passion and purpose in a career.
3. Have there been any hard times in teaching?
Being a teacher is difficult as we strive to implement Iowa Core, integrate effective classroom strategies, strive for high student achievement, assist students in organizing their learning, and complete paperwork in a timely fashion. The school year “road” changes year to year based upon the students we have and the make-up of a class. This diversity of students is what also has kept me enthusiastic about teaching because it is a career which is both challenging and filled with great joy, ever changing and ever inspiring me to work on my skills to make instruction relevant to the 21st Century learner. There is a significant change in the way students learn today. Technology and social media are a great part of their lives and will continue to be. I am fortunate to be in a school that has a 1-to-1 initiative along with programs such as Infinite Campus and Study Wiz. Campus allows both students and parents to keep informed of student progress, tardiness, and attendance. Study Wiz allows students to be informed of what is going on in classes, with links to resources, and clear explanations of assignments. Needless to say, keeping up on technology is sometimes difficult, but I know it is necessary in order to keep education relevant to students of today. It is important that we instruct students on appropriate use of technology as well as how to use it to access information and in the creation of projects.
Personally, the hardest event I have faced in teaching was the suicide of a sixth grade student and several years later the suicide of a seventh grade student. Both left me wondering, “What could I have done to change this? What signs did I miss? Why did this happen?” It makes one reflective about the “hidden” issues of mental illness that many face and makes me very aware of appreciating each moment along with being compassionate about bigger issues adolescent students face. We do not know what life outside of our building is like for those who enter our classrooms, but we can make our classrooms a place where they feel welcome, respected, and valued, always with a sense that we are opening doors for students to see the bigger life picture as they begin making decisions about the person they aspire to be.
4. What are your thoughts about the Iowa Core? Why is it so important to Iowa?
Iowa Core takes learning to a deeper level for both teachers and students. It has changed what I do as a teacher and has led me to focus on learning instead of content. Implementation of Iowa Core has provided opportunities for strong collaboration between teachers as we implement instruction incorporating the standards. I speak from experience when I say implementation of Core has challenged our literacy teams to re-evaluate our curriculum and seek complex texts for students to analyze and unpack as they learn to read and write critically. To successfully implement Iowa Core, it requires unpacking standards so that we instruct them with fidelity and has encouraged us to focus on instruction that is both rigorous and relevant to the 21st Century. The end result for Iowa is to enhance student achievement across our state and better prepare our students to compete in a global society.
5. You incorporate data into your teaching. Why? How do you know if you are collecting the right data?
In today’s classroom, using informative, effective, and authentic assessments are necessary to guide instruction. Formative assessment is an integral part of all instruction especially as we measure progress toward proficiency with standards. It informs both student and teacher of the learning continuum. If we do not assess, we cannot truly know if a student is learning the desired outcomes. Assessments come in different forms including informal and formal assessments, norm-based and criterion-referenced testing, along with performance tasks. All are varied ways of assessing the direction of learning. Assessment data should be at the heart of our instruction and assist us in making choices related to effective teaching strategies.
6. If you could share just one thought with fellow teachers, what would it be?
In the field of education, continuous improvement is what we should seek. Change is difficult for many including for our students; however, we need to strive for continuous improvement in order to provide a rigorous and relevant learning environment. Seeking continuous improvement breathes fire into what we do in our classrooms and also helps to ignite a fire into the learning lives of our students. We must collaborate and learn from each other as we move forward in our classrooms. Collaboration is a key component of continuous improvement.
7. For new teachers coming into the profession, what advice would you offer them?
My advice for new teachers is to look at the positive, change the negative, and maintain enthusiasm with a focus on creating a student-centered classroom. Never stop striving for continuous improvement, serving as an example for students as a life-long learner. Each year we should ask ourselves a series of questions to drive our instruction:
- “How can I make my classroom one that invites students in to learn?”
- “What do I want students to say about this class when they leave?”
- “What type of learning experience do I want to create for them? What type of learner do I want to enable them to be?”
8. As 2014 Teacher of the Year, what are you looking forward to?
As Teacher of the Year, I look forward to serving as an ambassador for teachers. There are many teachers throughout our state doing amazing things for students and I am honored to represent them. I look forward to visiting with teachers and viewing classrooms. I hope to highlight the positive results coming from classrooms throughout our state, thereby inspiring others towards continuous improvement. I hope to learn new and innovative ideas to bring to a leadership role in eastern Iowa.