By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Jill Wesley was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. She moved to Ann Arbor with her husband, Donald, in 1990. Drawn toward teaching from an early age, Wesley enrolled at Eastern Michigan University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Later, Wesley continued her education at Concordia University, where she earned her master’s degree in Curriculum and Design.
Weslely began her teaching career as a student teacher at Lawton Elementary. She was then offered a long-term substitute teaching position at Mitchell Elementary, teaching fourth grade. Wesley was hired by AAPS to complete the year at Mitchell and ended up continuing on with her class to fifth grade. After two years at Mitchell, she transferred to Lawton Elementary, where she has taught third, fourth and fifth grade for the last 12 years.
She and her husband have been married 29 years. The couple’s 19-year-old son, Holland, graduated from Pioneer High School and is working on a degree in construction management.
Wesley spends vacations with her family and their dog Nikki. She enjoys exploring trails on bicycles, hiking, and riding ATVs. In the winter months, Wesley enjoys playing in the snow by snow tubing and riding on snowmobiles.
What is your fondest memory of being in fifth grade at Lawton? My fondest memory of being in fifth grade at Lawton was watching a wedding my students planned for our class pets, George and Martha. George and Martha are Russian tortoises, and my class that year decided it was time for the pair to become married. They planned the whole event. We had students singing, playing the piano and guitar, and announcing the wedding vows. Students were in charge of the decorations (it was an outdoor wedding), and one of our room parents made a beautiful salad for the newlyweds! It was a huge success, and the torts are still together today.
What inspired you to become a teacher? When I was in elementary school, my fourth/fifth grade teacher was ideal. I adored her. She was kind, caring and compassionate. I remember our fourth grade class begging her to move up to fifth grade with us. The principal took some convincing, but we were granted our wish. She encouraged me to help my older brothers with spelling and multiplication. During the summers, I would organize a “summer school” with the younger kids in the neighborhood. By the end of fifth grade, I hoped that I would become a teacher.
What’s the best compliment anyone could give you? I think the best compliment anyone could give me would be that I made their child want to get up and come to school because I inspired and motivated them to learn. A student coming back to say that I encouraged them to continue putting forth their best effort and to continue to be lifelong learners would be a dream compliment.
How do you keep students engaged? With the world moving and changing at a fast pace, it can be challenging to keep students engaged. My strategy is to keep them engaged by incorporating as much hands-on participation as I can. Students are frequently engaged in group projects that require them to research, learn and present their findings to the class. One year, I provided my class with a stack of cardboard boxes and challenged them to create something. Anything. Groups began drawing up plans for robots, turtles, talking rabbits, trucks, a giant pig and computers. They were very creative, and then they presented their work to the younger grades.
One of my favorite activities is to tie economics and math into a career-budget project. Student teams are assigned a career, or a job, and a salary. They then find an Ann Arbor company to work for, and housing and transportation. Finally, groups create a monthly budget that includes rent, utilities, childcare, groceries, etc.
What makes Lawton a great place to work? Lawton is a great place to work because of the camaraderie felt and because of our team spirit. We truly are like a family, striving to collaborate and communicate like a family. We recognize that all of our intentions are good and that we have the same goals: connecting with students and families and fostering positive learning experiences for all. Division tears people apart, whereas working together builds strength. Working together makes us stronger.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? There are so many rewarding parts of teaching. I love working with children and seeing them realize their potential when learning and new material. Every day is a new adventure, a fresh start. Teachers can make their work environment a positive, happy place to be, and students will benefit from that positivity. My students make me smile and laugh every day. It is truly a joy, a gift, to be a teacher and to make connections with students and to have a positive impact on their lives.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? I want everyone to realize that teaching, while rewarding, is an all-consuming job. As a teacher, I am working during the school day, into the evening, and even on weekends. Preparing engaging lessons that will inspire my students to participate, learn and share their learning with others takes time. My husband is often amazed at the hours I put into my work, but I would not have it any other way.
How do you recharge? I recharge by walking my dog, Nikki. She really only likes a few people, and she does not get along with other dogs, so I play with her a lot. I enjoy taking her to the woods on cool, fall days to walk the trails. I also love reading books. My favorite genre is science fiction. For a longer recharge, I enjoy going on trips to ride my ATV or snowmobile in the Upper Peninsula.
How do you think students will remember you and your class? I think students mostly remember me as being a kind-hearted, friendly teacher. They will also remember the many class pets I have had over the years. Currently, I have two Russian tortoises and two gerbils. I am downsizing. I have had snakes, hermit crabs, birds, fish and aquatic frogs over the years.