By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
Abby Ruehlmann is completing her first year of teaching in the district, but has already made a big impact on the ELA team and students at Clague Middle School.
Principal Che´Carter says her enthusiasm and deep content knowledge creates an engaging student-centered learning environment. “She is passionate about creating initiatives generated by students,” he says. “She has taken a leadership role as the facilitator for our student publication “The Cougar Star.” “Abby is a great communicator with her families and students and exhumes positive energy and meets students where they are, while pushing them to be more.”
Abby Ruehlmann grew up in Cincinnati. She attended the University of Michigan, graduating with a double major in English Language and Literature and Creative Writing. After discovering her passion for teaching through 826michigan—a non-profit organization dedicated to helping young learners reach their potential with the help of local volunteers—she applied to U-M’s Secondary MAC program.
Following the completion of her master’s degree in education with teaching certification, Ruehlmann lived and taught in Dearborn. In the summer of 2017, she returned to Ann Arbor where she now lives with her cat, Mittens Lamar IV, who loves playing with dryer sheets and plastic bags.
When she isn’t teaching, Ruehlmann is most likely reading psychological thrillers or young adult fiction, cooking something elaborate, or baking cookies.
What inspired you to become a teacher? While in college, I started volunteering with 826michigan’s in-school residency programs. After I’d graduated, my work schedule allowed me to continue volunteering. I spent two mornings a week in a second grade classroom and two mornings a week in a high school academic literacy class. While the second graders recited and applied jingles about complete sentences needing a capital letter and a punctuation mark, the high schoolers wrote entire paragraphs of unpunctuated, uncapitalized text. This disparity is what inspired me to become a teacher.
Did you have a Plan B? To have a Plan B would imply that I had a Plan A. I’m not much of a planner. In fact, lessons and units are the only part of my life that I really plan.
How do you keep students engaged? I think it comes down to two things: 1) I motivate and differentiate a lot through choice so that students are intrinsically interested as often as possible, and 2) I’m a kook—an enthusiastic, passionate, optimistic, kook.
Describe an average workday. I get to Clague at around 7 a.m. I grade anything that was turned in the day before and look over my slides. My day starts with my most spirited class, and the entire first half of school typically goes by in a blur with the whir of the projector. I don’t have an advisory of my own, so I have students coming in for extra help, retakes, or to organize our classroom library, which somehow always requires more time and effort. I usually eat lunch in the staff lounge in the company of my colleagues. Then I teach another section of eighth grade ELA. During sixth hour, I prepare any copies I need for the following day. My last hour class has 34 students, but it rarely feels like the challenge that you’d expect 34 eighth graders to be at the end of the day. After the bell rings, I attempt to tidy up my desk and pull together anything prudent for tomorrow before I leave between 3:30 and 4:00.
What’s your best collaborative experience with a colleague? My classroom neighbor, Martina Vit, and I both teach eighth grade ELA, which has been an incredible blessing. We collaborate constantly. Asking for advice. Sharing resources. Developing lessons together. The entire ELA department at Clague is phenomenal. I’ve been able to give and receive so much feedback and support with the curriculum and beyond it.
What’s the last new skill you learned? Last month I figured out how to import grades into PowerSchool from the spreadsheets made by Goobric (an add-on to Google Classroom). I’m pretty pleased about that, as I anticipate it will ultimately save me more time than it took to learn how to do. I also participated in the Blending Learning Cohort during this school year and had the opportunity to explore all kinds of technology and create blended units.
Most-used smartphone apps: Amazon, NYT Crossword, and Instagram.
What’s your favorite to-do list manager? In grad school, I started using 4×6-inch, lined Post-it notes to make to-do lists for each week. I usually stick them to my desk.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? The most rewarding part of teaching is that every single day I feel like I’m doing the most important thing I’ll ever do in my life.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? Educator and motivational speaker Todd Whitaker has said, “The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.” So often in life, education is heralded as the dividing line between success and failure. As teachers, we’re equipping students with what they need to get themselves beyond that line. As a nation, we don’t see equitable results across all students. Education is the civil rights issue of the generation. I wish more people realized that.
How do you recharge? I’m an emotional baker. Happy, sad, stressed, excited, elated, exhausted, I bake. I also love to cook, and, of course, eat. Being around food relaxes and recharges me. If I have a few hours of work to do over the weekend, I’ll bookend it with various culinary endeavors, like making fried rice in the wok, or bahn mis, or lasagna bolognese. Since these dishes are labors of love, I always make extra to share with friends—or to feed myself the next day.
Do you have any embarrassing teaching moments you’re willing to share? Only about 108 or so. Such as the time I was lecturing my students about the importance of proofreading when someone pointed out that I’d spelled my own name wrong in the example. Or when I had an allergic reaction to a new skincare product that turned my face progressively more reddish-orange throughout the day. By the time seventh hour rolled around, a student remarked, “Well, at least you did us all a favor solved the mystery of which product the president uses.” The laughter that ensued caused me to turn a shade redder.
How do you spend your summer break? My summer break includes being outside as much as possible, reading as often as possible, cooking lots of food, and eating lots of food. This year, I’m planning a camping trip with my college roommate in Banff National Park, which is in Alberta, Canada.
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life? Professionally, two things: 1) Earlier this week the timer went off, signaling that independent reading time had ended, and one of my most reluctant readers—who’d previously insisted that he didn’t read—begged for five more minutes. 2) I signed up for the Assessment Literacy Summer Training at WISD the week after school ends, and I’m looking forward to that.
Personally, two things: 1) I recently got engaged, and 2) I recently perfected my chocolate chip cookie recipe.
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