Photos and profile by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Jennifer Wilkening grew up in Alma, the daughter of Gabriel and JanaLynn Almeida.
In addition to teaching in Grand Blanc and in Durham, N.C., Jennifer Wilkening has taught at Tappan Middle School, Stone High School, and Huron High School for the past 16 years. She has taught seventh grade life science, physical science, biology, earth science, and AP biology, and is currently teaching AP biology at Huron High School.
Wilkening works with many students outside of the classroom, as well. She was the varsity swim coach at Huron from 2001 to 2012, and was named “Coach of the Year” in 2008. She has coached numerous All-State and All-American athletes, including state champions and state record holders. She has also been involved in many academic and cultural clubs at Huron, including Science Olympiad, Science Bowl, Indian Student Association, and GIDAS—Genes in Diseases and Symptoms, a club that led to the pilot of a biotechnology lab experience for all ninth graders at Huron last year and is expanding this year to include Pioneer and Skyline ninth graders as well.
Wilkening and her husband, Rick, who works in health care IT, have three children: Jack, a seventh grader at Slauson Middle School; and Lily and Violet, who are in fifth and first grades at Eberwhite.
In her free time, Wilkening enjoys swimming, hiking in the woods behind her home with her labradoodle, Moose, skiing with her family, and playing board games and puzzles.
What do you most remember about your own high school science classes? My most memorable science experience in high school was an advanced biology class that I took in tenth grade. We were able to choose our own research topic, develop a question, design a project to study, and analyze the results. We were real scientists. My group researched how environmental stresses affected the vertebrate cardiovascular system. It was fascinating.
What inspired you to become a teacher? The teacher who taught this class and my chemistry teacher. He was really tough. Mr. Stuckey reminds me of Mr. (Huron math teacher Peter) Collins. My parents also influenced me. They love science and helping others and that rubbed off on me.
Why science? In my mind, science solves problems using lots of different tools. I love learning how things work and how they interact with each other.
In your 16 years with AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning? Many things have changed, but one thing that has definitely not is the drive to help every student where they are and make them better equipped to make choices that they can be proud of.
Describe an average workday. I work part time, so I usually get up around 5:30, swim 3000 yards at the YMCA, get three kids up and ready for school, and walk them to Eberwhite. Then I head to Huron and have lunch with students before I teach three sections of AP biology. We have a collaborative planning hour. I then work with students/ clubs after school until 3:30. Then I work on planning assessing in the evening.
Apps you can’t live without: “Remind.” I use it as a push only text message with students and parents. When change comes up, I like to keep folks informed. And “ClassDojo,” which is a random student selector that keeps me from calling on the same students while using cute avatars for each student.
How do you stay organized? Not very well. I have a website that I curate with lots of awesome content and set up a lot of reminders and appointments in my Google calendar.
What is unique about teaching at Huron? The passion of the staff for students and each other. It really is a great big family.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? When students come back after they have graduated and tell me how prepared they were for college biology based on the content of my course. Seeing students in the community and hearing what they—and their children—are up to.
What has surprised you most about the profession? How many great resources there are in our community and how willing they are to share their expertise.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? I bring my A game every day. Sometimes things don’t work. So we try it a different way.
If you could change one thing about public education, what would it be? More time spent teaching kids how the world works—not just content in a course. How taxes work, how to interview and how to do the best that you can all the time.
What would you tell a college student considering becoming a teacher? Be patient. There are lots of challenges, but at the beginning of the day, you have bright faces that are going to impact the world and you have the opportunity to influence them.
What about your personal life is most exciting right now? Watching my children become big people. They are kind to others and want to learn more. Being a part of this process in the community is awesome.
What excites you professionally? Developing new tools to share with students. They are so much more creative at solving problems than I am, and I revel in the opportunity to work with them every day.