By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Bryant Elementary Principal Jamar Humphrey says that ever since preschool was added to Bryant in 2019, Teacher Assistant Miranda Messer has been a “consistent rockstar and team player.”
“She has a passion for helping kids and has a natural ability to connect with each of her students,” he says. “It’s rare that you will see Miranda sitting or standing in one spot very long. She is proactive, always up, moving around, and interacting with students. Ms. Miranda’s skill sets have supported the entire school community. She has been a great addition to the Bryant team and has adopted the ‘whatever it takes’ attitude when it comes to supporting our students. We are honored to have her as part of the team.”
Miranda Messer was born in Kentucky and lived there until she was two and moved to Michigan with her parents, Dorsey and Doris Conley, when her father began working at the Rawsonville Ford plant
in Ypsilanti. They eventually moved to Milan, where she grew up with her sister Melinda, and brother Rodney.
Messer remained in Milan, where she raised her daughters Danielle and Tiffany, and son Gary. She later moved to Lansing and Ann Arbor but eventually returned to Milan, where her youngest daughter Sierra graduated and is now attending Grand Valley State University.
Messer enjoys spending time with family, dinners, BBQ’s, trips, game nights, playing with her four grandchildren and going to watch her family in their various sporting events. She also loves watching Michigan football and basketball games.
You’ve had an interesting career path. Was it all planned?
My career path actually took me in directions I had not planned. I was attending Washtenaw Community College for nursing. At that time there was a two-year waiting list. I had completed all my prerequisites and needed a job while I was waiting. My neighbor talked me into applying with the Michigan Department of Corrections. I was offered and accepted the job and began working at the Huron Valley Women’s Facility in Ypsilanti. After two years I was promoted to sergeant at the Cassidy Lake Facility in Chelsea. That facility turned into the Special Alternative Incarceration Program, which was a 90-day program that was modeled after a military boot camp. In was designed to give an offender the alternative to a longer prison sentence if they completed the program, by first tearing them down and then building them back up with strict discipline, schedules, routines, hard work, and physical exercise, GED classes, and Life Skill classes. I was so enthusiastic about this program that I decided to stay instead of pursuing my original plan in nursing.
After years of working in this program, learning more about the offenders, watching them change and grow in positive ways, and finding out things in their lives that got them there, a question kept coming back to me, “What if things would have been different for them when they were young, still in school, and had a positive role model and someone in their life who really cared.” So after 27 years, I retired so I could pursue a second career working in the public school system to find out.
While working for the Department of Corrections, I received extensive training in hostage situations and negotiations, crisis management, managing people with mental illness, and diffusing situations.
I knew I had a lot to offer, but I also was not naïve in thinking if I was a school administrator and saw a resume from someone that had been a sergeant in a prison boot camp, I might be very hesitant about hiring them to work with children. So, I decided to volunteer and work all day, every day, in my daughter’s third grade classroom at Pattengill Elementary, not only for other school staff and administrators to get a chance to know me and see how I work with children, but for me to also gain knowledge of how to work with children in a school setting. The next year a position for a Teaching Assistant in their self-contained classroom at Clague Middle School was posted. I interviewed, was offered the position, and my career as a teaching assistant with Ann Arbor Public Schools began. I continued to work at Clague for four years working with students in the self-contained classrooms.
My heart, however, was still wanting to work with children at the elementary or preschool level, so when an opening became available at the Westerman Preschool and Family Center, I applied, interviewed, and was offered the position. I worked at Westerman for two years. Then two new preschool classrooms were opened at Bryant Elementary and I began working with the preschoolers there. This is my third school year at Bryant.
What do you like specifically about being at Bryant?
What I like specifically about being at Bryant is that it is a lower elementary building. There is a big difference between a preschooler and a fifth grader, but not so much between a preschooler and a second grader. I also like the fact that because we are at Bryant, getting the preschoolers ready for that transition to kindergarten makes it much easier. Most importantly, however, the staff here at Bryant are exceptional and have welcomed and included us in everything they do.
How do you feel about the 2022-23 school year and the emphasis on dignity?
I am very happy that the district is showing an emphasis on dignity this year and am hopeful it will open eyes and encourage everyone to look into themselves and make changes where necessary in their interactions with their students, their students’ families, and their co-workers. Every one deserves the respect of being treated with dignity. Hopefully, everyone will learn to not think of their own perception but be able to put themselves in the perception of the receiver of their words or actions.
What is a typical workday like for you?
A typical work day for me is pretty much the same all year. Believe it or not, preschoolers actually love schedules and routines and do not hesitate to let you know if they are not being followed. We begin the day by welcoming and talking to each child and the adult bringing them. They then sign in by trying to trace or write their name and answer a question of the day. Next is breakfast where we all eat family style while the children talk about whatever they wish with us and each other like they would at home with their family. We then move on to greeting time at the carpet, giving them messages we need to pass on, going over the schedule, the weather, learning a new letter, word, shape, and color, then reading a book. Small Group is next. This is where we might do a science experiment, experiment with cooking and measuring, make some type of art project learning to cut and glue and use their imagination, or build with blocks, shapes, or other materials to make whatever their little hands create. Next comes what
we call work time which is playtime. During this time they are using their imagination, problem-solving skills, and learning social and emotional skills. We then go out for recess, which is of course everyone’s favorite time of day. Lunch and rest time are next. As the students are waking up they can do puzzles, look at books, write/color in their journals, paint, or other small manipulatives. It is then time for snack, recess, getting ready to go home, and dismissing each child to their adult letting them know how their day was.
Would you say it’s a stressful job?
It most certainly can be. I think it just depends on the location you are working at and the type
of day your student/s are having.
Which of your personality traits make you well-suited for the job?
I would have to say it’s that I am caring and calm. I will care for everyone and do what I can to make their life better. I usually do not get overexcited about things and can keep a calmness about myself even in chaos.
What is the best compliment anyone could give you?
That I am caring and treat people with dignity and respect.
What don’t people realize about the work of a teacher assistant?
I don’t think people realize that the work of a teacher assistant varies greatly by what grade level you are assisting, if you are one on one with a student in a general education classroom setting, or if you are in a self-contained classroom with many students. For example, in a preschool classroom, the teacher assistant is considered a co-teacher and does the same things as the teacher by teaching and supporting all the children in that classroom. In the K-12 setting, a teacher assistant will be assigned a specific student and either remain in that classroom with them or go with them to different classrooms to help support them with their specific needs. In a self-contained classroom, the teacher assistant will help support numerous students with a wide variety of needs. Some of these needs may include diapering, toileting, feeding, tube feeding, using various medical devices, protecting them from harming themselves or others, cognitive impairments, emotional impairments, trauma, and various mental illnesses to name a
few. Most teacher assistants definitely go home tired, drained, and sometimes physically hurt at the end of each day. I think there are quite a few teacher assistances who do not feel they get recognized for the hard work they perform each day because they do not have the title of a teacher. I however have always had that recognition and am grateful for that. Every teacher assistant deserves to be recognized for the hard work they perform each day supporting our students.
What’s the happiest part of your day?
Watching the pure joy or laughter on the faces of my students when they learn something new,
accomplish something for the first time, or just experience something fun. Luckily in the preschool classroom, I get to experience this numerous times a day. Nothing is better than the smiles and laughter of a child.
If you could know the definitive answer to any one question, what would it be?
How long do I have left on this earth? Sometimes life is just cut way to short and if you would be able to know this, you would be able to achieve all the things you want to accomplish in your life.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Just watching how much the kids grow in every aspect. Being at Bryant not only lets me see how much the preschoolers have grown throughout the year, but I also get to see how much some of them that continue at Bryant, grow as they continue in other grade levels.
How do you recharge?
It varies. Sometimes I just need quiet alone time and watch a movie or my favorite TV shows and sometimes I spend time with family and friends.
How do you spend your summers?
At the beginning of the summer, I try to just relax and enjoy the warm weather. Then I try to get all the things done around my house and yard that I didn’t have time to do during the school year. Then I try to travel, go to summer events, and spend more time with family and friends.
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
I think the most exciting thing this year in my professional life is the feeling of getting back to the normalcy of pre-Covid days. In the preschool Head Start and GSRP programs having a partnership with not only the student but the families is a big part of the program. Because of Covid, the partnership with families was very restricted. This year, however, we are able to again have families visit the classroom, go on field trips, and have in-person home visits, and conferences. We have already had overwhelming participation from the families in forming that partnership with us to ensure their child thrives more than ever. I am really looking forward to it continuing throughout the year.
I think the most exciting thing in my personal life right now is realizing I am an empty nester since my youngest has now started college. Knowing that, I have made the decision to finally retire next year. I have a granddaughter who lives in Phoenix and I am not able to see her as often as I would like during the school year, so this will give me the opportunity to travel more to see her and other distant family, and spend more time with all my family and friends.
Since I enjoy working with children so much though, I can definitely see myself coming back to sub when I can.