Michael Jones, Skyline science teacher

Michael Curtis Jones grew up in the city of Detroit during the 70’s and 80’s, the third of Curtis and Mary Jones’s six children.  His family was one of those selected for the bussing program in the early 70’s, so he and his siblings were bussed from a northeast side school, Atkinson Elementary, to a far east side school, Wilkins Elementary.  It was during that time he began to think about being a teacher when his fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Mike, inspired him with her strict, yet caring approach to teaching. 

During his years at Detroit’s Nolan Middle School and Cass Technical High School, Jones  was further inspired by other dedicated teachers who fueled his desire to teach: Mr. Wells (counselor), Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Brockington, Mr. Causey, Ms. Merlo, Ms. Benson, Mrs. Switzkowski, Mr. John and Mr. Denmin, among others.  

Strong and resolute in his faith, he says his God-given passion for teaching thrived during his years at the University of Michigan while he also sat under the teaching ministry of Dr. Charles E. Hawthorne and extensively participated in ministry at Labor of Love Church in Ann Arbor.  It was there that he met his wife, Kaycie Donnalynn Jones, with whom he has four children: Michael Jones, II, Nicholas Jones, Brandon Jones, and Karalynn Jones.  In 2019, Jones officiated at the wedding of his first-born son to his daughter-in-law, Dailani. 

Jones has been involved in the education field in various capacities since the late 1980’s.  He first began in Ann Arbor working in engineering summer programs at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering.  While there, he also helped to structure and teach in Ann Arbor Public School Saturday Academy for African American Students in the early 1990’s.  

For several years, he coordinated curriculum for the Summer Engineering Academy at the University of Michigan.  Then while he worked at the University of Michigan’s Minority Engineering Program Office, an opportunity opened for him to substitute teach long-term at his alma mater, Cass Technical High School.  In 1992, he began teaching at Cass Tech and remained there for 18 years until he departed in 2010 to join the Ann Arbor Public School family as one of the science teachers at Skyline High School.  Since then, he has taught many subjects, participated on several committees, developed curriculum, and authored many of the Teacher Growth Calculators used in teacher evaluations.  

Skyline Principal Cory McElmeel says Jones is a teacher who was truly called to the profession not only to teach but to inspire children to achieve more than they believe possible.

“Mike’s classroom is an environment of solutions—one where he works to remove barriers while also showing students how to leap over them,” says McElmeel.

Jones enjoys carpentry work— from building a book case to installing a basement bathroom.  He also loves to play a variety of board games with his family as well as watch old and new sci-fi shows such as Star Trek, Star Wars, and most of the Marvel movies.

Jones says he looks forward to the future, and hopes to continue developing curriculum as well as nurturing, training and shaping the pedagogy of current and the next generation of educators. 

What will you remember most about this past year as a teacher?

One of the things that I will remember from this past year is the intense effort everyone put into making this virtual education platform work for our kids and themselves.  We made it work. We made it happen. We did it!

How has the transition to hybrid learning been going for you and the students?

According to Harry Wong in his book “First Days of School”, if a teacher transitions to teach a new course, they become as a first-year teacher regardless of their years of experience.  Working with that thought, with this pandemic and transition to virtual learning, the entire world’s teaching staff just became first-year teachers.  I can say it has definitely felt like that.  Nonetheless, working collaboratively with other great and capable colleagues in Ann Arbor Public School’s Teacher Learning Networks (TLNs), families and students alike have cushioned the challenges over this past year.

Describe an average workday.  

My workday starts rather early.  Sleeping in for me is waking up at 6 a.m.  Before the pandemic, I would arrive at school between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and in the solitude of the building, make final preparations for class and ensure that my mind was set for the day.  Even in this pandemic, I’ve still risen early to do just that—it is just virtual!  Now in hybrid learning, after getting classes started during the first block, I try to be engaging in terms of the activities, the lesson, and just myself.  I continue and generally stay after school to help tutor students and work with colleagues on various initiatives and committees.

What’s the happiest part of your day?

The happiest part of my day is when I engage students and they have those aha moments.  That represents a breakthrough in understanding, a light going on and a renewed “I can do this” mindset.

What were you like in high school?

In high school I was fairly studious.  I had a circle of friends who did their work and aspired to be doctors, lawyers, scientists, politicians and so forth.  

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

Some key advice I would give to a first-year teacher was advice shared with me over the course of my years in education. That advice included:

  • You must remain teachable if you are to be able to teach effectively.
  • Teach students, not lessons. Get to know them and connect with them quickly.
  • Enjoy what you do in front of the students; inspire and ignite them with the fire of learning you have.
  • Be flexible. Rarely do things ever remain the same. Change with the times, but always remain true to the fundamentals that undergird our profession. Care for our children while unearthing, shaping and nurturing the potential in every child to embrace and successfully engage the future that awaits them.
  • Always have a backup plan.  Things hardly ever go according to plan, so develop a plan, but be ready to implement another one as necessary.  This goes along with being flexible.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

I had a fifth grade teacher that really began the spark for me to be a teacher.  Oddly enough, her name was Mrs. Mike – my name sake.  She was strict, but I could tell she really cared for us. Because they heard she was strict, none of the fourth grade students wanted to be in her class. I was one of them, but by the end of the fifth  grade, I was so glad to have had her!  I also had dynamic teachers at Nolan Middle School and Cass Technical High School in Detroit who made learning fun, intriguing and meaningful. That doesn’t mean it was easy, but they worked with me through it all. 

When I attended the University of Michigan, I went there wanting to become a biomedical researcher, but I found through various experiences a researcher’s career was more solitude than really fit me.  Upon reflecting, praying and counseling, I realized that what I really enjoyed doing, found great joy in, and experienced real satisfaction in, was in shaping the hearts and minds of others to the world around them.  I enjoyed teaching!

Why science?

I have always been good at science. My science teachers helped to make things in my science classes make sense, and I saw so many of my questions get answered and could see the potential of science answering many others. 

As I attended the University of Michigan, I endeavored to pursue a degree in cellular molecular biology. Even though there were challenges, I nonetheless enjoyed them.  As I began exploring and solidifying career options, teaching science seemed to be a great fit.  However, in the beginning of my career, I had an opportunity to sub as a math teacher for a semester and that was great.  But when a science substituted teacher position surfaced, I embraced the opportunity.  The rest is pretty much history.  Teaching science has provided a superb context for project-based learning, explaining the world around, as well as opening the minds and career options/avenues for students to explore and pursue themselves. 

What’s the best compliment a student could give you?

I have had former students stop me in the buildings and parking lots at the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, in Meijer and Kroger and say, “It was because of you that I decided to go into physics, chemistry, engineering and so on.”  For me, that is the greatest complement: that I have impacted students in a way that has altered their trajectory in life. Beyond that, many have just stopped by to tell me, “Thank you! Your hard work and dedication have not gone unnoticed.”

How do you keep students engaged?

I do at least two things to try to keep students engaged.  First and foremost, I want to make sure they know I care more about them than I care about the lesson.  After all, I am teaching students, not lessons.  If they are not getting it, I will pause the lesson to ensure the one student “gets it” and achieves success.  

While teaching, I also try to connect the lesson to them and their experiences by feeding off of their comments and inputs into any discussions we have.  I try to connect what they don’t know to what they do know so that what they don’t know becomes what they do know.  

Mike Jones

 When anyone participates or shares a thought, I use their input to further and guide small group and whole-class discussions.  In short, students must be part of the engagement. Their lives matter and must be part of what we do. In these ways, I want to validate them, their input and the value they add to others and to the overall experience we have in class.

What’s unique about teaching at Skyline?

Teaching at Skyline has been challenging, yet a very rewarding part of my career. There is an intense amount of collaboration.  Not saying this is not so at other schools, but I have witnessed authentic care for our children in this building, or should I say in our school’s community.  We have our challenges with students, just like every school, but I strongly believe our intent is to do right by the students we nurture here. We also embrace open dialogue about issues we face in our Skyline community and set ourselves to address them collaboratively.  In that, there is tremendous support for each other.  I don’t feel like I am on an island in my classroom teaching, but I feel like a part of a team dedicated to our kids.

 What is the most rewarding part of teaching?

The most rewarding part of teaching for me is when students:

  • who have not smiled about learning, smile during the activity or lesson.
  • who think “this is so hard”, look back and realize they can actually do it and it was not that hard after all.
  • who saw no meaning in their lives for science begin to feel as if they understand “why” and “how” and feel like they can contribute to the greater scientific community.  In short, they find a home and consider themselves at home in learning!

What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?

Teaching is not just a science but also an art form.  Regardless of how many years of experience I have, the volumes of literature and research I absorb, or the conferences and workshops I participate in, I have found the greatest source of learning, knowledge, and expertise come from those sitting in front of me every day: my students.  

We learn them; they learn us. We learn from them and they learn from us.  Balancing this mutual exchange of knowledge and experience underscores the science and art of teaching.  There are somany intricacies throughout the process of sharing and facilitating student engagement and learning in just five minutes of teaching let alone an entire lesson or class time.  It really takes an extraordinary amount of care every time I am in front of young developing minds.  After all, I strongly believe that I am charged with guiding and ensuring all of my students have the foundation to be the leaders of today and tomorrow.

 How do you spend your summers?

I have spent the majority of my summers over the last 29 years in education either doing something educationally related or working around my house on carpentry projects and vacationing with my family.  Over the years, I have developed, implemented, and coordinated engineering-based curriculum for the University of Michigan’s summer engineering programs.  I have also taught science and robotics in the EMU’s Upward Bound Program.  Through various other workshops/conferences, I have reflected and planned for the upcoming school year.  

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