SONIC’s November Teacher of the Month is Amy Keliher who teaches English at Slinger High School in Slinger, Wisconsin.
Below, Ms. Keliher shares the importance of teaching her English students to give back to their community and how hands-on active teaching can encourage kids.
Who or what inspired you to become a teacher?
I had an English teacher who made me feel special; that all of my responses in class discussions were valued, creative and thoughtful. I wanted to pay it forward to my students and make sure every one of them felt the same.
That teacher also taught me the value of service to the community when she connected literature with activities like hosting an ice cream social at a nursing home. Since then, I’ve always found ways to blend service-learning into my classroom.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Besides teaching English, I love working with my Student Council students on great community projects like a Fall Yard Cleanup, Santa Sitters, a free Senior Citizens Christmas Dinner, Donations for Donuts Food Drive, Leadership Summits and many more. I also love working with my English students on Veterans’ oral history projects and organizing a Great Gatsby Party.
What advice do you have for fellow educators?
Show grace to your students! High standards will be met when students feel understood and that we are on their side working for them. High school students especially need to have a sense of buy-in, and the best way to get them to do quality work is to make it meaningful. Give them opportunities to share something of themselves — their hopes and fears, and how they view the world.
What are some ways that you stay inspired as a teacher?
I’ve been teaching for 30 years. I stay inspired by focusing on the small, daily things like greetings in the hallway from my students, watching their eyes light up when they discuss a character in a story, or creating new tactile activities in class to review for a test. Most importantly, I am inspired when I can connect lessons to the world around my students — where they can share a piece of themselves and leave a footprint.
What are some of your go-to ways to encourage students to engage in the classroom?
I love to get my students out of their seats! To share ideas, we will go into the hallway to form two lines to discuss guide questions, share their drawings of scenes from a chapter, or ask “characters” questions. In order to hear everyone’s voice, we will stand in a circle and pass a ball so that everyone can react to a chapter, make a connection to a story idea or ask a question. To understand a main character, we will get out large banner paper and groups will trace a student, cut out the shape, and write notes in the head, heart, and hands/feet section to present to the class the emotions, thoughts, and actions of the character.
Sometimes in class, instead of turn-and-talk, I will have students stand up and give a high-five to the person across the room to share a quick response. Getting them up and moving keeps them engaged and happy.
How can community members and brands best support teachers, and why is it important to you?
Teachers work really hard to keep students engaged. Sometimes it takes small investments in paper, scissors, markers, books, headphones, or even a portable Flip speaker to take learning outside of the classroom for a day so that education can flourish.
When community members and brands make an investment in small projects for teachers, it inspires us to try new things and this, in turn, inspires students to invest in their education. It is a win-win for everyone involved.
I’ve had 10 projects completed, and it has been incredible. SONIC Drive-In and its Limeades for Learning program has helped me by funding projects where students make cards and door signs for senior citizens, posters of inspirational quotes to hang around school, a reading corner with a table and chairs, and teacher appreciation gifts from students. Financial investments from brands and community members make teachers feel valued and supported, and with so many teachers leaving the profession lately, it is crucial to help teachers continue to thrive.
What are some of the notable classroom needs you and your fellow teachers have right now where funding support could help?
Books are the highest need in most classrooms. Many schools will provide enough copy paper, technology, and textbooks, but ELA classrooms are always in need of more books because of wear and tear, newer titles, changing curriculum, differentiated learning, and fresh voices. Another priority need is cardstock, cutting boards, die-cuts, shelving/organizers, headphones, and flexible seating or reading areas.
What tips do you have for fellow educators who want to upload a project on DonorsChoose for the first time?
Keep your project small to start with – typically under $150 – because it will be more likely to be funded. You can always post multiple projects, so split them up for greater success. Share a link to your project on social media so friends and family can contribute. Keep an eye out for matches by corporations like SONIC. I often see big matches, and sometimes fully funded projects, before the start of a new school year and during national Teacher Appreciation Week by some big donors.
This story is part of an ongoing series.