Lauren Perry, fourth grade teacher, Pattengill Elementary

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News

Lauren Perry grew up on Ann Arbor’s west side and attended Haisley Elementary, Forsythe Middle School, and Pioneer High. Her parents Luke and Marsha Perry still live in her childhood home.

When she was growing up, her mom opened an in-home daycare to take care of her and five other toddlers. During her first 13 years of her life, Perry was immersed in a school environment, right at home. Looking back on her earliest years, she says she saw what an impact her mother had on her becoming a better person and a stronger educator. Perry calls her father her number one cheerleader who attended every one of her Tae Kwon Do sessions and field hockey games. The two shared a love of camping, fishing, and motorcycle riding.

After high school, Perry attended Michigan State University and graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in education, with a focus on integrated science and urban education. For the next several years, she taught Pre-K in a private school and worked as a nanny before enrolling at the University of Michigan to earn a master’s in educational studies and K-8 teacher certification in 2021. She likes to tell others that she cheers for both Michigan State University and U-M so that she has friends on both sides.

This is Perry’s first year teaching at Pattengill Elementary School, where she says she loves her class of 24 fourth graders. 

Anne Crochet says her son, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), has experienced his best year in school because of Perry.

“We moved here from Washington State and I was very concerned about my son’s experience in a new school due to his social and behavioral challenges,” says Crochet, an educator of 20-plus years.  “Ms. Perry has been nothing but supportive, accommodating, communicative and positive when it comes to my son.  She works so hard to make sure all of her students feel welcome and cared for.  I always tell her that we were truly blessed to have landed in her care this year.  I believe that.  She is definitely an Exceptional Teacher as she works very hard to help bring out the best in each one of her students.  She truly is a gem.”

Keiona Hayes says she’s proud that Perry is her daughter’s teacher, and notes that Perry goes out of her way to clearly communicate to the children and parents.

“She celebrates the differences and similarities of all, helping children understand their individual beauty,” says Hayes. “Ms. Perry even helps children explore outside of the curriculum, assisting them with individual projects to expand their knowledge base.”

And parent Erin Hunter just this week sent an email to Principal Taneia Giles, noting: “Ms. Perry is an absolute gem. She had done wonders with our 4th grader, and I have heard similar sentiments from the parents of other kids in her class. Ms. Perry is not only a wonderful, fun, and caring human being, but a truly talented teacher. She has a way of seeing and respecting each kid in her class that is beautiful to see, especially after the strains and stresses of the last two pandemic years. I have been referring to her as the “Mary Poppins” of teachers, as it comes the closest to conveying the magic she brings to her class. She is a gift to her students and to the Pattengill community.”  

Principal Giles agrees Perry is “amazing.”

“Lauren Perry works well for students in her classroom to celebrate diversity, and bring awareness and learning with small group instruction,” says Giles. “She’s a great asset to the Pattengill Puma family.”

Perry lives in Ypsilanti with her fiancé Steve—a Ford Motor Company engineer—and their Bernese mountain dog, Shadow. The couple looks forward to their wedding planned for the summer of 2023.

What inspired you to become a teacher? 
There have been many educators in my life that have left a significant impact on me. These three individuals made me want to become a teacher: my mother Marsha Perry; my fifth grade teacher Jim Weindorf at Haisley; and my sixth grade science teacher, Dennis Kiesling at Forsythe.

My mom was and will always be my biggest role model. She showed me what hard work and love would accomplish. 

Mr. Weindorf was the first teacher that made me feel “seen.” While I was a good student, I still struggled with writing and spelling in my elementary school years. I remember that we had weekly spelling tests in his class. I was always so embarrassed that I would get only one or two words correct out of ten on the pretests. Each week, I would furiously study and practice my spelling words at home. Every Friday I would get 100 percent on my post-tests. At the end of our fifth grade school year, Mr. Weindorf gave me the “most improved speller” award. I was so proud to be recognized for the amount of work I put into my education to improve myself as a student. I have so much love for the way that Mr. Weindorf connects with his students. What’s even more amazing to me is that he still teaches at Haisley and we are now both fourth grade teachers in AAPS! We were in a district-wide fourth grade meeting, and Jim said in front of our colleagues, “Lauren, I’m so glad you’re here teaching in Ann Arbor Public Schools!” He is the type of teacher that remembers his students 20 years later and continues to inspire them well into their adult years. 

In middle school, Mr. Kiesling was the fun teacher that all of the students loved. I still remember the “star drawings” he held, where we could earn tickets for good behavior and completed assignments. Students could deposit their earnings into a raffle and win prizes from his treasure box. However, the biggest impact that Mr. Keisling left me with was his encouragement to research my interests for the school-wide science fair. I did a research project on butterflies and moths, because of a pocket-sized butterfly book that I had as a child. I wasn’t sure this was an interesting enough topic, but Mr. Keisling encouraged me to pursue it. At home, I made supersized models of a butterfly and a moth with hand-painted wings to compare the two. After submitting the project, I still remember getting a call saying, “we need Lauren to come to the award ceremony, because she’s placed in the science fair!” My parents and I screamed in delight. In the audience, I remember that I kept waiting and waiting to hear my name. To my surprise, I won first place in the 6th grade for the model division, beating a working hoverboard project. I learned that year from Mr. Kiesling that you don’t have to have the flashiest or the biggest ideas to be noticed. Instead, students should be encouraged to follow their interests no matter how “small” or “unusual” they may seem. Once the science fair was over, he kept my project on a shelf in his classroom for at least ten years. Anytime I would walk by his classroom or visit him years later, it was still there. I went on to study science education in college and have told hundreds of people about what Mr. Kiesling’s encouragement meant to me. 

This is your first year at Pattengill. Any surprises? 
I have only experienced happy surprises! I didn’t expect to have the outpour of love and appreciation from my students and their families that I’ve received from the Pattengill community. I have never felt so cared for in a job role before. Their kindness, support, and messages of appreciation throughout the year mean more to me than they know.

Another surprise was a very kind gesture that I received after a few sick days. When I returned to school, one of my colleagues at Pattengill, Amanda Saffian, had my students write an entire book for me while I was absent. They all wrote about why they appreciate me. Many of their words were things that they hadn’t said out loud and I didn’t know that they meant so much to them. I read everything from, “Thanks for talking about Pokémon with me,” “Thank you for making sure all the kids have snacks,” and “You make me feel comfortable and I feel safe with you, because I trust you so much. I love you.” I cried the entire time reading it. It was the most thoughtful gesture a co-worker has ever done for me! 

Finally, I didn’t expect to cry tears of joy in front of my entire class this year. I read a powerful read aloud to my class and a great classroom discussion spurred from it. Students were asking great questions and shared what the message meant to them. Then one student raised their hand and spoke for two minutes on how the book made them think about their learning difference, how it challenges them, and how it also makes them special. I just stood there in awe of their courage to share their personal experience with the entire class. When they were finished, I couldn’t hold back my tears when I told them how proud I was for sharing this with all of us. I explained to that class that sometimes adults are so proud of their words or their hard work, that they cry tears of happiness. 

What was always written on your report cards in grade school? 
“Lauren is helpful in class.” “She shows good attention to detail.” “She is extremely organized.” “She is good at math.” 

Describe an average workday. 
Depending on the morning, I usually arrive early to work to set up for the day. I enjoy the calmness before most students and co-workers arrive. I always say good morning to my fourth grade team members: Kelly Cheladyn and James Taylor. Kelly and I typically share a good laugh about our week, and James usually asks me something about Star Wars or Marvel Comics. In the morning, I greet my students and chat with them as they eat breakfast and complete light morning work. I’ve made an effort to always hold morning meetings, to make time for social-emotional learning. Each day I teach word work, reading, writing, and math. I meet in small groups and confer one-on-one with students. While students are in specials, I am setting up for the next activity and touching up planning for the rest of the week. Near the end of the day, I always read aloud a new picture book to my students or read a chapter from a book we’re reading together. We end the day with a closing circle such as a group game or a share. 

What’s the happiest part of your day? 
When a student says, “ohhh, I get it now!” 

What’s one of your hidden talents? 
I can make some pretty weird bird noises and sound effects. 

What song do you know all the lyrics to? 
“Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon. 

Favorite apps and podcasts? 
My favorite educational apps are Book Creator, Padlet, Peardeck, Prodigy, and Spellie (it’s like Wordle for kids; shout out to third grade teacher Desiree Mawby for this one). It’s on my to-do list to check out Blooket from third grade teacher Lisa Bankey’s recommendations. 

I love listening to the Cult of the Pedagogy for an education-themed podcast. When I’m feeling spooky I listen to quite a bit of True Crime podcasts such as Crime Junkies. Finally, when I’m on a long road trip with Steve, I’m usually forced to listen to the Making Sense podcast by Sam Harris, who covers everything from science and philosophy to politics. I pretend to hate it, but it’s actually pretty interesting.

What makes teaching at Pattengill unique? 
Our students, families, and staff make our Bryant and Pattengill community beautifully diverse in ethnicities, backgrounds, languages, and abilities. I have learned so much about so many different cultures and languages this school year. I love being able to make culturally responsive teaching come to life in my classroom because of it. 

How do you keep students engaged? 
I can be a pretty high-energy teacher and I love to move around the room to interact and work with all of my students throughout the day. We have a movement break in the classroom (in addition to recesses) through dance, songs, or games on a daily basis to help wake the kids up or help manage jittery feelings. I’m not afraid to sing or dance in front of my students. Luckily, nine and 10-year-olds still have fun doing it, too. The fourth graders seem to enjoy it when I incorporate technology into the classroom for multimedia learning opportunities. Finally, throughout the whole year, as I learn more and more about my students, I incorporate their interests into the curriculum that I am teaching. 

How do you show school spirit? 

I love being a Pattengill Puma! You will catch me wearing Puma gear every casual Friday! 

What is the most rewarding part of teaching? 
Knowing that I’ve made a small difference in the education and lives of my students. For example, one of my student’s grandfathers emailed me and said that their child “seems motivated again, loves school, and realizes math is important. Know that none of this would be possible or happening without your guidance.” 

What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? 
Teachers wear many hats and have more duties inside of our job than most realize. We have to manage the safety and happiness of our students, adapt to changes in policies and administration, balance tight budgets, observe and assess students, be observed and assessed ourselves, administer standardized tests, find time to lesson plan, try to make room for self-care, and provide a great education for our students. Being a teacher is not an easy job. The profession has only gotten harder for teachers in the last few years. I am very fortunate to have the support of my students’ families, but not all teachers are as lucky as me. If you have a child, please thank their teacher, coach, or mentor. Tell them that you appreciate them and the work that they do for your family. Ask them how you can support them this school year! 

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
My class just went on their first field trip in two years, to the Fox Science Preserve’s Gravel Pit. My students were so excited to learn more about our Earth’s geology, both outdoors and in person. This was a big highlight for us this school year! I’m also looking forward to surprising my students with picnic snacks and read-alouds outdoors this spring.

In my personal life, I am excited to put lesson planning on hold, in order to make room for wedding planning this summer! Steve and I are getting married in the summer of 2023 in Ann Arbor. We can’t wait to celebrate our marriage with our friends and family!

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