Teacher of the Month: Peterson’s Energy Enlightens the Learning Space

October 29, 2015

Culture

Photo by Page Fairchild Project Manager Michelle Peterson calls on scholars in her sixth period English class. She was chosen as The Catalyst's first ever Manager of the Month.

/Photo by Paige Fairchild/
Project Manager Michelle Peterson calls on scholars in her sixth period English class. She was chosen as The Catalyst’s first ever Manager of the Month.

By Indiana Thompson —

As a child, Mrs. Peterson used to set up her teddy bears in rows to teach them lessons and give them homework. She would even have them do math problems wrong, so she could correct them. Later, in high school, Peterson was greatly influenced by one of her own teachers, and she was able to see the potential to change lives as an educator.  Throughout her life, she has had other jobs, but none of them as fulfilling as this one.

This is Peterson’s second year as an English project manager at The ASK Academy. She is bright, always positive, and laughs all the time. She has made it her goal to make sure her freshmen and sophomore scholars learn and will be successful in their future careers.

Peterson was chosen as The Catalyst’s first ever Manager of the Month, elected by scholars via a Survey Monkey that was sent out to the student body in early October.

The Catalyst caught up with Peterson to discuss her energy, her eagerness, and general view on life.

When you heard that you won Manager of the Month, how did you react?

It feels like I won an Oscar! (“You like me! You really like me!”)

Did you expect to be the manager of the month?

No, I didn’t. I didn’t know there even was a “Manager of Month,” and I certainly didn’t dream I’d be picked for such a thing.

Why do you think the scholars voted for you?

I want to say it’s my amazing dance moves. Or my hilarious jokes. But probably because I know nothing of Anime or Supernatural or any other of whatever pop culture thing they are into, and they like that they get to write about this stuff in my class.

Do you like your scholars?

I love my scholars. They are quirky, funny, sweet, authentic, and they teach me every day. I would have loved to have gone to high school with ASK Scholars — they are something else, and often I wonder how I got so lucky.

How do you think you help the scholars learn?

I help them learn by encouraging them to think. This is one of the most important goals for me as a teacher — to make sure my students think. If they can think, they can do anything.

Is teaching worth all of the hard work and long hours?

This is the best job I’ve ever had.

What influenced you to become a teacher?

I have always deeply loved the process of learning. I also think I was meant to be a teacher — when I was little, I set up my teddy bears and gave them lessons and homework.  I also discovered my voice as a writer in high school through one of my teachers, and I was able to see the potential this job has to change lives. I knew in 11th grade that I wanted to do that. I’ve had other jobs, but none of them have been nearly as fulfilling as this one.

What is the most memorable experience you’ve had as a teacher?

I have plenty that will probably go down in my memoirs one day, but one that sticks out is from this recent camping trip. A group of scholars and I were going down a rather steep and jagged cliff to get to the waterfalls below, and I was really nervous about it. The scholars stepped it up and naturally took on the role of leaders and guides. I didn’t have to do a thing. They were compassionate, patient, and trustworthy. I will always remember that, because it made me realize that, when put to the task, scholars will become leaders and teachers, and there is so much more to them than what I see for 70 minutes every day.

What would you like to accomplish yet as a teacher?

For my students to be better writers, readers, and thinkers, so that, when they go out into the world with whatever they are doing, they have the skills necessary to understand and be understood. I want them to have the skills and knowledge to communicate well, to critically analyze the messages they are presented with, and to give compassion and empathy to others because they’ve learned a thing or two about humanity.

What would you like to change to improve ASK Academy?

Well, the one thing I want is actually on its way — a new building! This is a big step for the Academy, and I think the brand new space will allow the managers and scholars to really soar. It’s quite interesting how a physical space can totally change the atmosphere and flow of a lesson, so once we get through the process of moving and settled in, I am sure we will all be rock stars.

Where do you think you’ve been most effective in making education better?

I hope I’ve been most effective in creating a space for my scholars to feel comfortable — comfortable to be themselves, comfortable to mess up, comfortable to get out of their comfort zone and try something new. I’d also like to think they no longer write with run-on sentences, but baby steps.

What frustrates you most as a manager?

What frustrates me most is when I see the potential a scholar has and the scholar chooses to squander it. This actually keeps me up at night. I just wish the scholars could see what I see — if they did, I don’t think they’d waste their potential. I don’t think they’d choose to be lazy or mediocre. I think they’d realize just how smart and capable they are — that they can reach far beyond what they think they can — and that they’d do it. This is another one of my goals — to help my kids see this in themselves.

What would you tell someone who was considering going into the field of education?

This is a hard job. You will get frustrated. But don’t lose sight of the big picture.

What do you think has helped you in being an effective manager?

My incredible ability to hear all side conversations during class. You think I’m not listening, but I am.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at school?

Road trips with my husband, writing, reading that is not student work (this is rare!), dancing.

Who was your greatest mentor and why?

I’ve had many mentors throughout my life. Some of them were teachers I had in middle and high school, some of them managers at my former jobs. Some of them are here at ASK now!

How have scholars motivated you in your career?

Just when I think I’ve totally messed up, or I question why I willingly chose to spend 8 hours of my day with teenagers — or when I realize I could be making more money somewhere else — they write a beautiful metaphor, or they say an insightful comment in class that I hadn’t thought of, or they write an email to say thanks, and all of that negativity I have built around myself just melts away. It’s important to surround yourself with good people, so they can remind you of the good in life — that’s why I’m so blessed to be at ASK!

What would you like others to know about you?

I love and will gladly accept any or all of the following, in no particular order: chocolate, coffee, puppies, Johnny Depp movies, hugs, books by Ray Bradbury, and movie theater popcorn (the really unhealthy kind).

Click to vote for November’s Manager of the Month.

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