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Profile and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Elliot Hammarlund Wills-Begley grew up in the woods, fields, and waters of the Old Mission Peninsula in Grand Traverse County where he spent most of his free time playing music, having bonfires, sailing, hunting, or going off-roading in his ‘93 Volvo 240.
Although neither of his parents were educators, Elliot says he always sort of knew he’d be an English teacher because English was always one of the few classes he typically did not despise. He was a good all-around student, but English was always the most creative and natural field of study for him.
After graduating from Traverse City Central High School in 2010, Wills-Begley attended the University of Michigan to major in English, with a focus on post-war personal and confessional poetry. While studying for his bachelor’s degree, he was a member of the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club, Michigan Telefund and Outdoor Adventures. Additionally, his younger brother, Ellis, and three others formed a bluegrass band called “The Wills Brothers and the Ramshackle Harbor Boys.”
Immediately upon graduation, Elliot began working towards his master’s degree with teaching certification at the U-M School of Education’s Secondary MAC program. During that time, he completed his student teaching at Scarlett Middle School, where he’s been ever since.
What are your favorite memories of middle school? To be honest, I was a terrible student in middle school. I spent just about every day in lunch detention, and made a habit of both annoying and insulting nearly all of my teachers. My favorite teacher was my band teacher, who encouraged me to live up to my potential. I think forced might be a more accurate word than encouraged.
What’s the most significant way you’ve changed since then? Most of my closest friends would probably argue that I haven’t really changed much since then. I am definitely still a child in many ways, but now I own a house, and have learned to take care of all that adult stuff. It’s not so hard. I don’t know why all you adults complain so much!
What was always written on your report card in grade school?
- High energy
- Talks constantly
- Can’t sit still
- Makes fun of peers
- Writes good
What inspired you to become a teacher? In high school, I had an AP language teacher, Mrs. Joelle Kolody, and she worked me over real good. I had always skated by in high school English, but she pushed me super hard to constantly improve. One term, I was lucky enough to be in a class with only six students. She was able to pay close attention to my writing, and gave me the most motivating feedback I’d ever gotten from a teacher. Ever since then, I’ve known that I wanted to help kids to do the same thing.
What was Plan B? Bluegrass musician.
Some think middle school is a particularly challenging age. Do you agree? Yes and no. Kids can be really frustrating and distracting, but I feel like it is such a crucial time to show them that they really can do well in school.
How do you keep students engaged? Jokes on jokes on jokes. We have a really good time in the classroom, but when it becomes time to work, or I really need to connect with a student, I can get really serious. Sometimes kids can have difficulty with that transition, but it doesn’t take long to get through to them.
Are you having as much fun in the classroom as it looks like you’re having? I would say so! I certainly have days that seem super long and difficult, but most of the time, I get to be myself in the classroom and do what I love.
Do the students ever take advantage of your good nature? On occasion, but I also think it is important for students to have a teacher who isn’t always so serious, and I’ve found that many students feel more comfortable talking with me about serious issues. I feel like my tambre in the classroom helps to make me more approachable. And at the end of the day, I try to make it as clear as possible to each student that I really do care about them.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning? In my three years in AAPS, the most important thing I’ve learned is to do your best to enjoy your job. Too many teachers quit too early because it can be super stressful. The whole transition to becoming an IB school has required way too many hours staring at a computer screen trying to align CCSS (Common Core State Standards) with IB MYB objectives and criteria, but in the end, it really is worth it. I try to hold on to the good times, and let the bad ones slide.
Describe an average workday. I wake up at the last possible second, drink some strong coffee, and drive to school singing country music at the top of my lungs. I like to arrive at least 20 minutes before the students come in, but that doesn’t always happen. I teach my lessons, eat snacks throughout the day, and spend my lunch just taking it easy for a few minutes. Once I make it through my 7th hour, I meet up with Muneer Khalid, my colleague/best friend/classroom neighbor/ex-classmate (both undergrad and grad school), and we lay out what work needs to be done in terms of planning. We’ll normally work til around 6 or 6:30, which is way better than last year when I was lucky to be out by 9:30 or 10 (I took it way too seriously), and then come home and do whatever grading I have to do. Then I will normally bust out the guitar and play some tunes, cook some tasty grub, and then hit the hay. I try to avoid TV, movies, and video games as much as possible.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
- Don’t let TV be your only escape. It sucks the life out of you, and you’ll end up staying up way too late, and you’ll be grumpy the next day.
- Make sure to make time for activities that you used to love as a kid, it’ll keep you younger for longer.
- Try not to take drama home with you. Leave that crap at school. Your life already has enough drama.
- Avoid complaining to other teachers, or listening to them to complain. It’s not good for anyone, and it’ll just make you bitter.
- When you do hang out with other teachers, don’t just talk about school/students. See above.
- Use one or two personal days.
- Take small steps. Teaching is hard, and it can overwhelm you if you try to work on everything at the same time.
Favorite websites: Imgur, Youtube, Google.
Apps you can’t live without: Snapchat, Venmo, online banking, iTunes, Google Maps.
What’s your favorite to-do list manager? Old school Moleskine. Days of the week on the left, notes on the right.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? Seeing the kids leave on the last day of school, seeing a kid change their attitude about learning, getting a kid pumped about reading…
What has surprised you most about the profession? How many people you have to please: Admin, departments, districts, parents, co-workers, politicians, and—oh yeah—students.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? That it’s hard in these streets!
How do you recharge? I drink 9-volt batteries. Just kidding, I play music, do yard work, read a good book, cook, enjoy a glass of a well rounded, bold and complex red wine, go for long walks under the stars, go camping on the weekends, Taking my girlfriend on dates, and most importantly, windsurfing.
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life? Well, I just bought a house in Ypsi, and I absolutely love it. It’s so cute! In terms of my professional life, I guess … Thanksgiving break coming up? Haha!