Caitlin Opfermann, Pittsfield Elementary Title I teacher

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News

Caitlin Garvin Opfermann is no stranger to the Ann Arbor Public School family, having attended Thurston Elementary and Clague Middle School before graduating from Huron High in 2007. She is a second-generation AAPS student and will be passing down this tradition to her older of her two sons, who will begin kindergarten in the fall.

Opfermann comes from a long line of well-respected educators and social workers and says it was no coincidence that education would be the vehicle she would use to positively impact her community and beyond.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education Mathematics and Early Childhood from Eastern Michigan University. During the last year of her program, she met her husband Scott, both of whom were serving as department supervisors at the Holman Success Center. Together, they completed their bachelor’s degree programs in education and started their journey as full-time teachers in Detroit. During her tenure there, Opfermann taught at the elementary and middle school levels before transitioning to a district-wide Instructional and curriculum coach. Her husband, having taught at both the middle and high school levels, soon followed suit as a social studies instructional coach.

Once again, the couple returned to Eastern Michigan University to each earn a Master’s in Curriculum Development and Educational Leadership. Despite their love for the school community in Detroit, the birth of their first son, Jacob, encouraged them to return to their AAPS roots.

In 2019, Opfermann became a Title I teacher at Pittsfield Elementary. The following year, her husband found a new home at Tappan Middle School as a social studies instructor.  In 2021, they welcomed their second son, Caiden.

The Opfermanns are devoted to their mission of innovating education at AAPS and dedicate their spare time to their graphic design and custom apparel business, Impressive Designs. When she is not on campus, Opfermann enjoys cooking, walks with her family, and cycling.

What is a Title I teacher?
As a Title I teacher, I work with students throughout the building to provide flexible and equitable academic support. I also oversee our Title I budget, hire academic tutors, and manage scheduling for other levels of academic support throughout the building. These goals are made possible through Title I-sponsored financial aid that supports schools with proportionally higher numbers of low-income families in order to ensure that each student has equitable access to academic and personal resources.

What inspired you to become a teacher?
I’ve always known I wanted to be a teacher! I was raised by generations of educators and social workers and even married into an extended family of educators. I saw the incredible work they did each day, unrelenting in their pursuit to change the lives of students and striving to make a positive impact. I felt it was my personal responsibility to uphold such an inspiring family legacy.

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now?
I have always been a firm believer in holistic development and recently established a school-wide “Care Closet” to put this passion into practice. Through generous donations, PTO support, and two Donors Choose projects, I was able to secure a host of high-need items for our school community, including winter apparel, toiletries, underclothing, and a large assortment of outerwear.  The Care Closet serves as a personal care repository for all students and has become a hallmark of our unwavering commitment to supporting the growth of the whole child.

Your signature includes the Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”   Why is that meaningful to you?
I’ve spent a large part of my career in education supporting students through philanthropy education. In Detroit, my husband and I spearheaded a Youth Leadership Team which introduced 3rd-12th grade students to the world of philanthropy and academic service learning. We hosted summer camps, retreats, and organized local, state, and international service projects. As I now watch these very same students graduate high school and college, I am inspired by the many ways in which they are now actively applying the skills they learned in our program. Their heightened sense of leadership serves as a foundation upon which they will continue to positively impact the world around them.

What do you love about Pittsfield Elementary?
Pittsfield Elementary is a small, intimate school that operates more like a close-knit family. From the moment I started working here, I was overcome with a sense of community and belonging. With such compassionate and dedicated staff and hardworking students, Pittsfield is a shining light in our community. We are able to pool our resources, talents, and energy in order to create a safe and loving environment where we all learn to grow together.

You’re obviously very energetic. When do you most need to unwind, and how do you do it?
My days are fast-paced and require a lot of energy. The best way for me to rest and recharge is by spending quality time with my boys, catching up on my favorite shows with my husband, and unwinding with a warm cup of tea!

What makes a good day at school?
In education, no two days are the same. Therefore, I remind myself to be open-minded about what success looks like.  A good day is hard to measure but always involves having a positive impact on at least one person. Whether it’s helping a student understand a concept they’ve been struggling with, supporting someone’s socio-emotional health with a coping strategy, or connecting with a colleague to empower them to make a difference in their classroom, every day has the potential to be better than the last.

What do you know about teaching now that you wish you’d known that first year?
If I could send one message to my 21-year-old self starting out in education, it would be to remember that nothing is perfect. Some of the best lessons I have learned haven’t come from textbooks or professional development, but from making mistakes and implementing changes as needed throughout the day. I spent countless hours worrying about the wording of lesson plans, prepping materials for every possible outcome, and creating the picture-perfect print environment. I have come to understand that education is less about the presentation and more about the people. Our time is better spent when we pay closer attention to the needs, interests, and goals of our students. It is not about reaching perfection but seeing the imperfect things more perfectly.

How do you keep students engaged?
Each student I work with has a different way they learn best. I take my time to get to know each student as an individual first, paying close attention to their learning styles and establishing a safe environment to make mistakes. Engagement is the result when all students feel heard, appreciated, and supported.

What is the happiest part of your day? 
Hugs from my boys! 

How do you spend your summers?
I spend as much of my summer as I can in Northern Michigan at my grandparent’s cottage. I vacationed there every summer as a child, and it is such an incredible feeling to watch my boys become a part of our annual “Up North” tradition. We enjoy swimming in the lake, boating, tubing, and hiking.

How do you think students will remember you and your class?
I want to be remembered as that teacher. We can all attest to having crossed paths with at least one teacher who made a positive impact on our lives. The one who did whatever it took to help us understand a challenging concept. The one we turned to with our social dilemmas. The one that came to our games and showed an interest in us as a person, and not just a student. I cannot think of a better way to be remembered than to become someone they will never forget.

Opfermann greets three students in the hallway of Pittsfield Elementary

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