Jen Shaw, Tappan Middle School Spanish teacher

Jen Shaw is the recent winner of two distinguished teaching awards

Editor’s note: Tappan Middle School Spanish teacher Jen Shaw was recently honored with two prestigious teaching awards. She has just been named the Michigan World Language Association’s Middle School Teacher of the Year. Additionally, last spring she was selected as one of three Washtenaw County teachers to receive a LaFontaine Teacher of the Year award.

“Jen Shaw is the whole package when it comes to teaching in 2023,” says Marci Harris, the district’s World Language Coordinator. “She is a building leader, a district leader, and a leader at the state level—in addition to being an innovative and conscientious Spanish teacher.”

Kristi Shaffer, a Spanish teacher at Huron and Community High schools, says Shaw is a dynamic presenter at the Michigan World Language Association who also serves as the conference coordinator, leading the fall conference that brings valuable professional development to language teachers all over the state.

“Jen also taught my three children when they were students at Tappan,” notes Shaffer. “The years that she taught my students had many twists and turns due to the pandemic, but Jen never missed a beat and kept them engaged and learning the whole time, giving them a great foundation in Spanish. I joined the district last year, and now I work closely with Jen as a fellow Spanish 1 teacher. Jen is generous and always willing to lend a hand and be a thought partner. She is a true professional who helps us collaborate and strengthen our instructional capacity as language teachers in AAPS.”

Community High School Spanish teacher Laurel Landrum says Shaw generously shares her knowledge and excitement about the subject with colleagues across the district.

“She works continually to elevate both her own practice and that of the whole department,” Landrum said. 

Jen Shaw has been teaching Spanish for 19 years, 13 of those years at Tappan Middle School. She lives in Dexter, with her husband, Tad, and her daughters, Brynlyn and Mili.
The first in her family to attend a four-year university, Shaw graduated from Albion College with honors, earning a bachelor’s degree in English, Spanish, and Secondary Education. She received her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of South Carolina, with a focus on educational technology. 

Why did you pursue a career in teaching? I always wanted to be a teacher and literally never considered any other career besides teaching. I’ve always loved working with kids. 

Why did you decide to teach Spanish? I actually am an English major, but I fell in love with Spanish—plus I needed a teachable minor—when I studied abroad in Spain in college.  I love teaching Spanish because it is so engaging and so much fun focusing on different cultures of the Spanish-speaking world.

Describe an average workday.
The interesting thing about being a middle school elective teacher is that you never teach the same thing back to back. I teach 7th grade, then 8th grade, then 6th grade, then advisory, then the cycle starts again with 7th grade, all before lunch. I imagine that it feels a little bit like running a half marathon (if I were a runner, which I’m not). Every day is different and I love that, but there’s lots of routine too.

What are your best tips for classroom management?
I’m very structured in my classroom.  I set very clear expectations and spend a lot of time reteaching them to students by getting and providing feedback. I also prioritize visuals, clear examples, and scaffolding for students who need more support. Consistency and clarity are key.

What do you like about working at Tappan specifically?
I love my Tappan colleagues; there is not a better staff out there. We support one another and our students together. I love the diversity at Tappan and the different perspectives that come with that level of diversity. I’m also so appreciative to Dr. Parnell because she is incredibly supportive and communicative to both her students and her staff.

What’s the happiest part of your day?
I love my advisory, which is entirely made up of some of my 8th grade Spanish I students. I get the opportunity to get to know them better and build a closer relationship, but I love that I’m already familiar because I’ve taught most of them in 6th and 7th grades already.

What do you want most for your students? 
First, I want my students to know that they matter each and every day.  Once they leave my classroom, I want my students to feel equipped and confident to interact with others, Spanish-speaking or not, in the real world. I obviously focus on building their Spanish skills, but I also want my kids to learn that their ability to interact and communicate effectively is essential regardless of the language.

Do you have any tips for classroom management?
For me, all of the time I spend focusing on classroom management and teaching my expectations to my students pays back in spades. Specifically, I love the CHAMPS model because it is so flexible for different classroom activities and it helps us develop routines for different types of activities we do in class. 

Favorite podcasts, websites, apps:
Really too many to name. I’m a professional development nerd and I love following my favorite World Language teachers and EdTech teachers on Twitter, Instagram, and their blogs, and attending state, regional, and national conferences.  I love learning from all of the master teachers out there, but I also value giving back by presenting and facilitating professional development resources and conferences. 

How did you react to hearing you were named one of three Washtenaw County teachers honored at LaFontaine Teacher of the Year in May?
I had no idea what was happening and I was really confused when Dr. (Tyese) Parnell, Mr. (Stephan) Hogan, and a slew of other people walked into my classroom during my planning period. I wasn’t sure if I should sit or stand or what I should say, so I was definitely shocked and speechless—which isn’t a common occurrence for me.  After I had the opportunity to process it, I was so honored because I teach in a school and in a district department of so many master teachers who are all equally deserving.  

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?  

  1. You’re probably going to crash and burn a lot as a first-year teacher; I certainly did. It’s ok, it’s part of the process.  It’s okay to model that learning is life-long and that you’re constantly growing, even as a teacher. Even after teaching for 19 years, I’m still constantly focused on improving and making the experience better for my students.   
  2. Stick with it, focus on what you’re doing well, your strengths, your students’ strengths, and go from there.  
  3. Ask for help—from other teachers, a mentor teacher, administrators, your department colleagues, and students.  

What’s the best compliment anyone could give you? 
The biggest compliment is when I receive an email from a former (or current) student or parent letting me know how my teaching impacted their life or their learning.  It fills my heart to know that I’ve impacted someone’s experience positively. Teaching can be really hard, but affirmations like that make it all worth it. 

What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
I wish everyone realized how much work and time goes into teaching and how teachers take our work home with us. I’m constantly thinking about my students and my lessons long after they’ve all gone home. 

How do you spend your summers? What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
During the summer, I transition to teacher-mom mode and I’m usually toting my kids to camps and appointments and planning vacations, while simultaneously trying to get my daughters to stop bickering. 

Professionally, I love doing some professional development during the summer. Coincidentally, I’m writing this while at a conference and I presented earlier today about interpersonal speaking strategies to about 50 teachers from Detroit Public Schools and around Michigan.  

I’m also the conference coordinator for the Michigan World Language Teacher Association, so I’ve spent a ton of time organizing the materials and planning our October in-person conference which usually has 300-400 teacher attendees.  It’s a lot of work and hours spent, but I value supporting and improving teaching practices for World Language educators in Michigan because we’re doing important work.

The MIWLA Teacher of the Year Awards honor the accomplishments of exemplary K-12 world language teachers. Each year, one elementary, one middle school, and one high school teacher may be recognized with this award, which each includes a stipend of $250. Teacher of the Year winners are recognized at the annual MIWLA conference.

“As the District Coordinator for World Languages in Ann Arbor, I have called on Jen numerous times to present professional development to the teachers in the district or to lead the Spanish teachers in creating new curriculum. Jen also served on a district committee with me to improve the Teacher Evaluation Process using the Danielson Framework. She is the epitome of the educator we all aspire to be:  continually improving her practice, giving back to her school, her district and her state, while maintaining high expectations and standards in a student-centered proficiency driven classroom.”  _ Marci Harris

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