The Best of the Best
SCHOOLS | May 9, 2020
The Best of the Best

Closing out Teacher Appreciation Week 2020 by Highlighting More Incredible Educators

If Ms. Shamika Keepers, a kindergarten teacher at Bronzeville Classical School, was to return to her first year as an educator, she would remind herself that teaching is a job that cannot be done alone. Her experience at Bronzeville has centered on seeking support from her colleagues to better both the students in her classroom and throughout the school community. Her colleagues—Ms. Jennifer Lewis, Ms. Jessica Wood, and Ms. Javee Hernandez—agree that even though Bronzeville is a school that has only been open for a few years, collaboration between school administration, the community, and each other has been key in creating a welcoming culture. Ms. Hernandez calls Bronzeville “the light at the end of the tunnel,” and Ms. Lewis says she has been amazed by the level of professional growth she has experienced at the school. 

“At Bronzeville, I feel like I am treated with such love, dignity, and respect that makes me want to do the best possible work that I can,” said Ms. Wood. “Our administration makes us proud every day so we want to make them proud too.” 

As a music teacher, Mr. Reginald Spears says respect means appreciating his special role by allowing him to focus entirely on his content area. He says Bronzeville characterizes music as an essential subject for students which makes him know that he is a valued member of the team. 

“My importance at Bronzeville is reflected down to the vocabulary that administration has put forward when describing my class—essential—because it is essential to the whole child,” said Mr. Spears. “I could not find a better place where I am appreciated for what I provide for our students.”  

Creating a supportive school culture is also a top priority at Neil Elementary in Chatham, where veteran educator Ms. Rose Shannon says there is the perfect combination of strong work ethic and familial relationships between staff members. Ms. Mia Preston says the students at Neil have a way of making her feel like one of the most important people in their lives, and first-year teacher Ms. Sandra Salazar says she has been extremely pleased with how supportive her fellow staff members have been in helping her adjust to her new work environment. 

“I feel that everyone at Neil was incredibly welcoming in showing me the ropes and offering me help when I need it,” said Ms. Salazar. “I learn from my experiences, and I’m learning from my fellow staff members about how to create a classroom routine and help my students enjoy school.” 

At Joplin Elementary, staff members say that collaboration is like a form of social and emotional learning for them, which in turn helps them better understand their students’ social and emotional needs. Ms. Tiajuana Bowen, a fourth-grade teacher at Joplin, says that Joplin makes her feel the passion to get up every day and teach, and she agrees with her colleagues Mr. Tyehimba Young and Ms. Chandra Cosey that working together to uplift teachers who may be feeling down is one of the most important parts of their jobs. In particular, they look forward to their morning “coffee chats” where teachers are always smiling and laughing together. 

“If I had to describe Joplin in one word, it would be awesome,” said Ms. Bowen. “Taking staff members under our wing and perking them up when we can is what helps us create such a strong community at the school.” 

The realization that social and emotional learning is for both teachers and students has also become clear to Ms. Carol Kendrick at Bouchet Academy, who says that teachers need to feel a sense of encouragement because they put so much into what they do. Fine arts teacher Ms. Emily Chyba says that she gets this support by developing strategies, such as creating seating charts to quickly learn students’ names, to build strong relationships with all of her students. Ms. Charissa Isom says she has been welcomed with open arms from her first day at Bouchet. 

“Working at Bouchet has been so refreshing for me because it has given me opportunities to grow and learn more every day,” said Ms. Isom.

Having been at Bouchet since 1999, Ms. Tina Franklin-Bertrand says she has felt inspired watching the school evolve over the past 20 years, especially because she continues to feel challenged serving her students. For Pre-K teacher Ms. Geralyn Minor, adjusting to remote learning over the past few months has been her biggest challenge, but she says having knowledgeable colleagues who can help answer her questions about technology has been key in helping her continue to educate her students. 

“Remote learning actually hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be since I feel my class flows very well and my students are very engaged,” said Ms. Minor. “Having patience and asking as many questions as I can about technology has been key.” 

For Ryder Elementary teachers Ms. Colette O’Neill and Ms. Janelle Dillard, the biggest challenge with remote learning has been transferring the incredible energy they feel when walking the halls of Ryder into their virtual classrooms. Both teachers agree that Ryder’s consistent commitment to excellence connects back to its dedicated staff members, who work together to make sure that every student who walks through the doors feels like they belong. This approach creates a school culture where the students care about the staff as much as the staff cares about the students. 

“I anticipate there will be a high sense of energy on our first day back at Ryder because the students will be so happy to see their teachers again,” said Ms. O’Neill. 

Ms. Nikole Lewis-Dickens, a middle school language arts teacher at Beethoven Elementary, says she will be elated to see her students again, but, for the time being, she’s focusing on empathy. Having been an educator for more than two decades, she says that being true to herself has always been one of her top priorities, and while she’s come to understand that she can’t be everything for everyone, she can make the greatest impact by putting her students first. She sums up her current approach through the Four Ms: being mindful, focusing on movement, mastering something and connecting with others in a meaningful way. 

“I know that we all have different experiences, so I am making sure that I never make any assumptions when I’m checking in with my students,” said Ms. Lewis-Dickens. “I want them to know that I’m still trying to show that motherly love, and I want them to look within themselves and always be their best because the world is their oyster.” 

In addition to our incredible educators at Bronzeville, Neil, Joplin, Bouchet, Ryder, and Beethoven, the district has been amazed by the various ways members of the CPS family have shared their gratitude for their favorite teachers. Check out some highlights in the video below!