By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Born on the Eastside of Detroit, Chelsea Birchmeier’s upbringing has shaped her teaching style. Her love for school was constant. Beyond watching soap operas with her grandma, reading has always been her favorite pastime. Her grandparents, who were influential in her upbringing, were Polish immigrants. Her grandfather taught her about urban farming and her grandma taught her how to be an expert communicator. Her single mother worked on the assembly line for Ford Motor Company and through that experience, Birchmeier understood that girls can do anything and that hard work is everything. Her father, who adopted her as a teen, is a materials engineer for Toyota. She says his presence in her life reinforces the belief that blood does not dictate family; love is family.
A graduate of East Detroit High School, Birchmeier went on to graduate from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in English and history. After joining the workforce, she kept finding herself gravitating towards teaching roles, perhaps influenced by her grandparents, as she was constantly supporting them as English language learners. She also believes her mother’s hard work and her father’s compassion led her toward her career, along with the many books she read in her life.
In 2013, she graduated from the University of Michigan School of Education’s Secondary Master of Arts with Certification (SECMAC) program. Upon completing her teaching practicum, she went on to teach high school English language arts at Wayne Memorial High School. Later, she joined Skyline High School and is in her seventh year of teaching. Throughout her career, she has also strived to be present in her school’s community. She’s taken on many roles, from class sponsor to step-team sponsor, and she is currently the sponsor for Skyline’s first Ethics Bowl team.
Birchmeier and her husband, Jonathan, a Brighton dentist, are the parents of Everett, 3, and Darcy, 1. They also have two dogs, Scout and Pip. They are a family of avid readers and learners. If you stop by their house, you might catch the couple in an enthusiastic discussion about their book club read, or you might find the entire family engaged in their most recent family read—together they read a wide range, from Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy” to Adam Rubin’s “Dragons Love Tacos.” And if she’s not with her family or working, you might find Birchmeier catching up on a soap opera.
If you could go back to high school, what would you do differently?
Throughout high school, I often helped take care of my grandparents, I held a part-time job, I maintained straight A’s, and I was involved in school extracurriculars. Between family obligations and work and homework and my role as the marching band drum major, I often fell asleep during class. In my senior year mock election, I won the “Rip Van Winkle” award. Sometimes I wonder if my former high school teachers are surprised to see that I became a teacher. If I could go back, I would have narrowed my focus in an effort to preserve energy.
What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
I received the best compliment at the most recent parent-teacher conferences. A student’s mom said, “It sounds like you really know my kid.” This really embodies my philosophy as an educator. I strive to build relationships with and know all of my students.
In which other teacher’s classroom would you like to enroll, if only for a day? Why?
To be fair, I can’t pick just one. When I walk the halls of Skyline, I always hear so many interesting things. I often purposely walk slowly past Casey Warner’s AP Environmental Science class. She engages students in the most interesting projects and lectures. I would also love to enroll in Collin Ganio’s Latin courses. My background in Latin is extremely limited, but he makes the subject seem so approachable through his stellar classroom environment and teaching style.
In your almost two years in AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning?
One thing that I love about AAPS, and especially Skyline, is our shared beliefs in equity and mastery learning. I teach to make sure education is accessible to all. We represent our students in our curriculum and our buildings. We create safe spaces for all learners. Mastery learning really lends to that because we recognize that all students take different paths to show and achieve mastery. This philosophy has always been a part of who I am as an educator, but AAPS has strengthened and reinforced that belief.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
If we want our students to engage in lifelong learning, we need to engage in that endeavor. Seek out professional development opportunities. Engage in teacher research. Connect with colleagues. There is always more to learn.
What’s the happiest part of your day?
The happiest parts of my day happen when I see learning. I love it when I can read a student’s facial expression and see an idea click. It is so powerful when a student confidently asks me to look at their writing or discuss what they’re reading. And my teacher’s heart swells when I see students engage in productive discourse.
Apps you can’t live without:
I love Goodreads, to help track my reading life, and Audible helps me find time to read in my busy day. Other apps that are always on rotation on my phone: Inbox, Google Maps, Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, GroupMe, and Homeroom.
This summer I watched Netflix’s “When They See Us.” It is so powerful and necessary to watch. The series invokes a necessary dialogue that everyone should engage in. The other series that I watched was HBO’s “Chernobyl.” The mini-series is beautifully done and is a great reminder of how the world is still impacted by such a terrible event. Currently, I’m counting down the days until Netflix’s “The Crown” returns.
How do you keep students engaged?
I give students choice and I adapt my teaching to them. If my curriculum is not relevant to my students, then they will not be engaged. I strive to include diverse perspectives and make sure that all of my students feel represented in my curriculum. I also use project-based learning. Students are currently engaged in creating a podcast with the topic of their choice. Recently, a student I had last year came up to me in the hall and told me that she misses working on her podcast because it was so interesting for her. If students get to have a choice in their learning, engagement almost always follows.
How do you spend your summers?
In the summer I am always outside or trying new things. As a family, we kayak, travel, or just soak up the sun at a local park. My husband and I love to sneak away from the kids sometimes and check out some of the great local businesses in the Arbor-Ypsi area, especially breweries and small shops.
How do you think students will remember you and your class?
I really hope that students remember the skills that we practice daily. I want them to read critically and analyze all that they encounter—news articles, tweets, snaps, books, speeches, commercials, television shows, YouTube videos, Instagram pictures, etc. We talk so much about narrative authority and voice, I hope they always remember to use their own.
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