Julia Williams, Lakewood Elementary special education teacher

Julia Stier Williams grew up in Ann Arbor, the second oldest of four girls. She went to Carpenter Elementary for 5th grade, then Scarlett for Middle school, and graduated from Huron High School in 2011. By the time she graduated high school, she knew she for sure wanted to work in the education field. It took some time before she figured out what part of education. Williams attended Central Michigan and earned a bachelor’s in elementary special education. After graduating in 2017, she started her teaching career working with students who struggle to regulate their emotions and spend the majority of their day within the self-contained classroom. 

She returned to Ann Arbor Public Schools, now as a teacher, in the fall of 2019. She continued to work in a self-contained classroom with students who struggle with managing their emotions throughout the school day. 

Williams is passionate about teaching students creative ways to manage their feelings while they stay within their learning environment. She also sets her classroom up as a safe place for students to come when they need support. 

After college, Williams returned to Ann Arbor and now lives in the surrounding area. She got married two years ago to a fellow Huron alumnus.  She lives with her husband, Spenser, and their 4-year-old cat. In her free time, she enjoys reading, especially historical fiction. She enjoys being creative in many ways, especially coloring or painting. 

Principal Airess Stewart says she’s grateful that Williams is part of the Lakewood community.

“Mrs. Williams is a collaborative educator, dedicated to meeting the needs of all students,” says Stewart.  “She works hard to build relationships with students, staff and families.”

Why did you pursue a career in teaching?
 I chose to be a teacher because I love helping others as well as advocating for what is right. 

Why special education?
I chose special education because I am passionate about advocating for students. Not all students learn the same way or understand the content the first time introduced. I like finding ways to teach that meet everyone’s learning needs.  

Describe an average workday. 
My work day varies day by day based on meetings and students’ schedules. On a typical day my goal is to get to school around 8, some days it is closer to 8:15. I prepare my classroom for that day and review updates with the TAs I work with. We meet our students when they get off the bus and prepare them for their morning.

My school day is filled with meetings, working with students in their general education classroom, in small groups, or just one on one. 

After work, I either go to the gym or if it is a nice day my husband and I will go for a walk in a park. We then make dinner together and watch one of our favorite TV shows. I love The Office, and Bob’s Burgers, and recently began watching Ted Lasso.

What do you like about working at Lakewood specifically?
This is my first year at Lakewood but I have enjoyed being here. Everyone has been welcoming and helpful. I love that the whole building uses Responsive Classroom strategies and language. 

What’s the happiest part of your day?
My favorite part of the day is watching students get off the bus ready for another day of school. I also love the end of the day when it is time to go home and relax. 

Do you have any tips for classroom management?
I think the most important thing a teacher can do to support their classroom management is to teach students how to handle their feelings. My teaching philosophy is that an unregulated student is not ready to learn and will not be able to show their best work. It is important to teach students skills to support their emotional regulation so when they are upset they know what to do. Once students have the skills and space to manage their feelings they will be set up for success and your classroom will run more smoothly.

Favorite podcasts, websites, apps: 
I love listening to NPR when I am driving to and from work. In my free time, I also listen to a lot of the podcasts put out by Crooked Media.

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
Be ready to make a lot of mistakes but as long as you learn from it, things will get easier.

What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
I think the best compliment would be that I made a difference in a student’s life. I have a huge heart and care a lot about every student, especially those in my classroom. Many of the kids I work with have not had positive school experiences. If I can show them a safe school environment that they can thrive in, then I did my job. 

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
There are so many rewarding parts of teaching. One is when a student finally catches on to a concept they have been struggling with. It is also rewarding when students are able to take the skills we teach them and use them without being reminded. 

Looking back, are you happy with your education in the Ann Arbor Public Schools district? 
I am very happy with my educational experience as a student in Ann Arbor. I think it really prepared me for college. After leaving Ann Arbor I realized how uniquely diverse it was. I quickly realized that this was very important to me and a place I wanted to come back to. 

Did any of your teachers impact your career decision? Does your teaching style reflect them in any way?
There is not one teacher specifically but everyone impacted part of my decision. The teachers that were passionate and loved their students inspired me for how I wanted to be. The ones that you could tell did not care about their students were the teachers I did not want to be. I am very grateful to all of my teachers for helping me be the teacher I am today. 

What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
I wish everyone realized or understood that teachers are humans and we are doing our best. We all make mistakes but at the end of the day, we all have good intentions. 

How do you spend your summers?
Most summers I go on at least one trip somewhere in Michigan. This summer My husband and I are going on a short trip to the Boyne Falls area in June. Then in August, we are going to Traverse City with my family. I will also be working Extended School Year (ESY) through the district, but it is for part of the summer.

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
I am most excited about the growth my students have made this year. I am also proud of the work I have put in for the elementary EI program. It has come very far from when I first started in 2019.

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