Teacher of the Week: Meagan-Stenzel

English Language Arts teacher Meagan Stenzel poses in her classroom at Urbana Middle School. Submitted

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Teacher of the Week: Meagan Stenzel, English/language arts, Urbana Middle School

Meagan Stenzel’s route to teaching was far from typical.

When the Urbana Middle School teacher took her first teaching class, she decided the profession wasn’t for her. But after graduating from the University of Illinois, she found herself working as a substitute teacher, and she enjoyed it so much that she went back to school to earn a teaching degree.

Never in doubt was her love of reading, which she cultivated as a child moving from place to place as a part of a military family. In her eight years at Urbana Middle School, she’s worked to pass that love on to her students.

“She is an excellent English/language arts teacher,” Principal Joe Wiemelt said. “She is fun and caring, a teacher leader at UMS, and students find a love of reading while in her class.”

I find my work important because ... Students spend so much of their time at school and with their teachers. In a regular school year, they spend more time with us than they do at home. Having teachers and staff that truly care for students as individuals and are there to support them, help them, listen to them, celebrate them, and show them that they matter is absolutely crucial. Middle school itself is such a unique age, and students are going through so much personally in addition to the normal stressors of school and life. Not only is it our job to help educate them academically, but we are part of their journey to find themselves and their place in the world.

I became a teacher because ... No day is the same. No week is the same. No school year is the same. No group of students is the same. If you are looking for a job that is predictable and routine, teaching is not it. I enjoy the ever-changing atmosphere of education. It keeps life interesting and keeps me on my toes. I also cannot describe how fulfilling it is to get to know my students and be a part of their lives. Every year, they ask me, ‘Ms. Stenzel, do you have kids?’ and I always respond, ‘Yeah, about 100 of them!’

My favorite/most unique lesson that I teach is ... It is the personal reading days we have throughout the year. I always have students who claim they do not like to read. I tell them that it’s not that they don’t like to read, it’s that they haven’t found what they like to read yet. Throughout the year, we find different types of books, different types of reading materials, different topics, and by the end of the year, they are reading for the whole class period.

My most fulfilling moment on the job was ... Honestly, there are so very many. Watching my kiddos put on an amazing performance in our school theater program I co-direct, “Broadway on Vine,” every year or seeing students make a huge improvement and finally “get it” are always incredibly rewarding, but recently, a student emailed late on a Friday night with a question. I responded, and his reply back literally filled my heart. He told me that even though it was a Friday night, he knew that I would respond because he knew he could always count on me to help. That right there is what makes every day worth it.

Something else I’m passionate about is ... Travel. I love to get out and see and do as much as possible. I definitely have a long bucket list of trips I still need to take, so hopefully we will be able to get back at it soon so I can continue to explore the world.

My favorite teacher (please include what school) and subject to study in school was … My favorite subject is easy. I have always been a lover of reading and language arts. Being an Army brat, books made great friends when I was in a new place full of strangers. One of my most memorable teachers was a co-teacher in my fourth-grade class at Burt Elementary in Clarksville (Tenn.). She would talk to me all the time about books, and she even continued to write back and forth with me for a while after we had moved. That meant a lot to me.

I engage students during this strange time by ... I feel like I am hosting some type of show everyday. I tell them, ‘Welcome to today’s episode of language arts! I’m your host, Ms. Stenzel!’ I try to keep a healthy balance of consistency in routine with different ways of presenting content, but really I think the biggest engagement motivator is just giving students your time and attention and creating a space in which we can learn but also just interact with one another.

If I weren’t a teacher, I would be ... As my middle-schoolers would say, ‘IDK.’ Honestly, though, I really don’t know. I can’t imagine doing anything else now that I’ve experienced life as a teacher. Maybe I would be a travel blogger and travel the world and just write reviews on destinations around the globe.It would definitely be fun, but I can’t imagine it filling my heart as much as seeing a student smile as they walk through my classroom door.

— Anthony Zilis

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