SCHOOLS | May 6, 2022
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! There are fantastic teachers in every single one of our schools, and, to close out the week, we’ve chosen to highlight four of them: Ms. Nickcole Pierre from Sumner Elementary School, Ms. Lara Spyer from Brighton Park Elementary School, Ms. Eunique Webb from Warren Elementary School, and Ms. Barbara Krantz from Kershaw Elementary School.
Each of these educators shares a passion for teaching and learning that has led them to build deep relationships with students that will last for years to come. Get to know each of them more below.
How did your experiences growing up lead you to pursue education as a career?
Ms. Krantz: I am my mother’s daughter, and she was a musician and theater person, and she knew how to draw. I also had a couple of really good art teachers. One was in fifth grade, and I really caught the bug in high school. Art became how I expressed myself and relaxed, and my love for it grew.
Ms. Webb: I’ve always loved learning and working with others. I went to a CPS high school and had an opportunity to help out in a grammar school’s summer school program, and it was a great experience. I knew then that teaching was what I wanted to do. I also remember having really great teachers that believed in me and affirmed me.
Ms. Spyer: Growing up, I was definitely not the cheerleader or sports type, so I was encouraged to find other pastimes. My first love was photography, and then it was filmmaking. I ended up doing After School Matters with a friend, and that was such a great experience that it led me to pursue teaching art.
Ms. Pierre: I’m the oldest of five, so I’ve always been a provider. My mom was a teacher. My grandmother was a teacher. It’s always been in my blood, and I knew that I wanted to help kids. I also had an amazing teacher in kindergarten and fourth grade named Ms. Cole. She showed me the value of education and helped me grow from my mistakes.
What are you known for at your school?
Ms. Webb: I think my students would describe me as fun, easygoing, and a good listener. My colleagues, on the other hand, would say I’m a little bit assertive, a team player, and willing to work with others.
Ms. Pierre: I’ve been at Sumner for more than 20 years; this is the only school where I’ve taught. My students know that I am going to be both hard and loving, and always available for them. I also do flexible seating in my classroom—there are no desks—because learning should be something that is fun. Everyone who comes into my classroom tells me how much they love my room.
Ms. Spyer: I think I’m known as the artsy teacher who is always thinking creatively. I’m always involved and work hard to make sure that my students’ voices are heard. A lot of students have “found themselves” in my art room, whether it be as jewelry makers, painters, sculptors, or creative thinkers.
Ms. Krantz: The balancing act of being a teacher is pushing your students to the next level while also meeting them where they are. So, I would say I’m known for being laid back and demanding at the same time. My colleagues see how dedicated I am and know that I can’t leave Kershaw feeling like I only did my job halfway.
What have been some of your favorite projects or memories that you’ve been a part of?
Ms. Pierre: Something that has been on my mind took place this school year. One of my students came into my classroom and said: “I want to be a football player. I don’t need school.” We had a big conversation about why school is important, and, from then on, he just started learning. He started working without me telling him and has become one of the leaders in my classroom. This is just one of the amazing stories of my students realizing that education is for them. I call these “wake-up moments.”
Ms. Spyer: I love working with memory. My students worked on a memory collage that had them explore how our memories might be clouded or one-sided. Seventh-grade students just did some sculptures of human figures with foil, plaster, and gauze. That’s always a favorite. And, this year, we started doing some printmaking, so we were doing protest prints, which were awesome.
Ms. Krantz: Kershaw is an IB school, so, one of the things I’ve done is establish an art partnership for our eighth-grade students with an organization called Creative Connections. Every year, we do an art trade with students from another country based on an overarching theme. Then, the students will get to videoconference with each other.
Ms. Webb: I love reading with my students because books can take you anywhere around the world without you leaving your seat. In my class, we talk a lot about themes in different books as well as finding a book’s main idea. Right now, the author we are exploring is Lesa Cline-Ransome.
What advice would you give an educator who is just starting out?
Ms. Krantz: When you’re just starting out, you’re building the plane as you’re flying it. You have to give yourself room to improve year after year. You grow as you go, so don’t be too hard on yourself and never give up.
Ms. Spyer: Stick with it. No matter how hard certain days can get, at the end of the day, the kids will remember your class and how much fun you had.
Ms. Pierre: Be free. When I started, I was so timid. This freedom to be yourself will help you support your students through different avenues of learning.
Ms. Webb: Even in the midst of challenges, you learn lessons and grow. So, I would tell myself to keep going, stay focused, and persevere.
What message would you like to share with your fellow CPS teachers?
Ms. Webb: Our students need you the most, and you should keep that at the forefront of your thoughts. You are definitely important, and you are appreciated.
Ms. Pierre: The message that we have at Sumner is “One team. One goal.” Remember that everyone is part of a team, and our goal should be to touch the lives of students, parents, and everyone in our community.
Ms. Krantz: Make sure you stay balanced and do what you need to do to validate yourself. That balance will keep you afloat because your best support is your own.
Ms. Spyer: Stay unique, stay focused, and know that, at the end of the day, you can reflect and change things if you need to, but you are doing a great job.