Photos and profile by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Veronica Nowicki grew up in Saginaw, the daughter of Tony and Maria Moreno. When she was seven years old, her family moved to Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain so her father could collaborate with other business leaders to develop an international corporation of General Motors.
Though Nowicki and family lived in a small Spanish town, she attended an American school for four years on the naval base in Rota, Spain. The family then returned to Saginaw, where she attended a private middle school and public high school.
During high school, Nowicki took a couple of psychology courses and worked at the Millet Learning Center, a school for children with low incidence handicaps. It was there that she discovered a desire to connect with students with unique needs. Nowicki attended Michigan State University to study psychology and education, and graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s in elementary education.
After graduation, she participated in a year-long student teaching program in Okemos, where she simultaneously completed 12 graduate level credit hours. After her student teaching experience, Nowicki was hired to teach fourth grade at Lawton. Several years later, she commuted back to MSU after teaching full days to complete her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. In the 22 years she’s been at Lawton, she’s taught third grade, a three-four split class, fourth grade and her current second grade.
Nowicki lives in Ann Arbor her husband, two children, and their Shiba Inu. Her hobbies include reading nonfiction, spending time with her family, and traveling to new places. She says her passions include teaching her children to be kind, to have empathy for others, and to always be grateful.
What did you learn from your time in Spain that has helped to shape you as a teacher? In Spain, I learned about cultures and diversity in communities. I enjoyed traveling with my family to places like Africa, England, Portugal, and of course, all over Spain during our school breaks and summer vacations. I loved going to “la ferias,” exploring castles, and walking around in small coastal towns. While I was not adventurous in eating the cuisine, I certainly enjoyed the beauty of the people and the traditions that characterized the cities. As a teacher, I continue to find learning about new cultures exciting and I love to celebrate my students’ unique backgrounds by inviting their families in to share their customs, traditions, and celebrations with our class.
What do you most remember about being in second grade? Something I remember vividly about being in second grade was how my teacher had recognized that I was a decent reader. She paired me up with students during reading time and we would read books together. She also bought me a gift when I made my first communion, which I remember to this day. She was nurturing and was always kind to our class.
What was always written on your report cards in grade school? On most of my elementary report cards, my teachers concluded: “Veronica is a sweet student who is often talkative in class. She is helpful and kind to others.”
What inspired you to become a teacher? I felt inspired to become a teacher through my volunteer work at the Millet Center and through experiences in classrooms in Lansing and Okemos. When I volunteered, I felt appreciative of what I had learned-whether it was learning about a child’s family background, reinforcing academic skills in small groups, or learning about the kind of teacher I had hoped to become. I simply learned that I wanted to learn more and my curiosities later directed my path.
Why elementary education? I have always enjoyed working with children. When I was in college, I also taught second graders religious education. I found children to be eager about the world around them, hopeful, and complex, which caught my attention! I absolutely loved their energy and I knew that I wanted to learn how to best support their learning. And I’m still learning!
What’s the important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning? I have learned that teaching is constantly evolving, which is a great thing. We are learning more and more about how to reach the young minds of today, as our dynamic of family and society continues to change. Learning is a process where “one size fits all “ does not apply. I have learned that to help my students reach their full potential, developing relationships and connecting with my students and families is essential. When I am able to connect with my students, trust develops and together we are better equipped to take risks in learning and appreciate the process along the way.
Describe an average workday. After arriving at school, I open the classroom with dim lights, a morning message, and a big smile as I greet my students as they enter the classroom. After the students settle in with the morning routine, we begin with a morning meeting. Here, we greet each other, share, and participate in a quick activity. After our morning meeting, we participate in reading workshop, which I teach through a Daily 5 structure.
After reading, we have recess and then engage in a more focused writing lesson, where we may write about small moments, for example. After lunch, my students listen to a read aloud, attend a special, engage in a brain break, eat snack, experience a math lesson through the Daily 3, participate in another brain break, engage in a science or social studies lesson, listen to the student of the week share something, head out to recess and then pack up and head home.
We often end the day with a quick reflective sharing session or by reading a few jokes and riddles to the class.
After school, the evenings include rushing off to staff meetings, soccer, swim class, or ballet for my own two children. Fatigue kicks in around 10 p.m. after I have checked emails and finalized plans.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher? I enjoy working alongside student teachers and new teachers. Their enthusiasm is contagious and I enjoy learning about new and interesting trends in teaching. I also love to collaborate and exchange ideas. The advice I have for new teachers is actually advice my first principal, Nan Gill, gave me years ago. She taught me about creative tension. She told me to teach, take the time to enjoy my first few years, continue to reflect and work to improve one area of my program each year. Apparently, during my first year of teaching, I was trying too hard to put everything together that I had picked up along the way about teaching, and she was suggesting I take baby steps so I wouldn’t burn out and leave the profession.
Apps you can’t live without: Epic, Raz Kids, Moby Max, Amazon, Zulily, Etsy, and Instagram.
Three favorite devices: iPad, iPhone, Amazon Echo.
How do you stay organized? I am someone who absolutely loves shopping for bins, pretty baskets, colored shelves, and patterned “anything.” I sometimes have to pull the reins in when it comes to shopping for back-to-school baskets. I can create a new need for storage and then there are times—including this year—when I realize I have too many baskets around and I have run out of room to store my storage! Aside from bins, I do organize a binder that is my “go-to” for student information, health plans, important handouts, and lesson plans. I begin each school year developing a curriculum map for the year, color code my weekly schedule, and try to update our class website throughout the year. I also collaborate with my team during PLCs to keep abreast of our school goals and initiatives. I use a variety of calendars and sticky notes at work and at home to keep me on top of events-and sometimes that doesn’t work. But, I try.
What is unique about teaching at Lawton? Lawton is a Leader in Me school, which is a school-wide model that teaches life skills and leadership to our students. At the core is the belief that “every child is a leader” and as teachers, we strive to empower our students and guide them to see their “genius” all while working towards becoming better prepared for the future. Our staff goes well above and beyond to support our students and families. The collaboration among our teachers has always made this a place where optimal teaching and learning is at the forefront of our plans and outlook for each academic year.
Describe a memorable experience you had as a teacher. One of my all-time favorite experiences I have ever had took place when I was a fourth grade teacher with about three years of teaching experience. My seasoned colleagues and I organized a fundraiser and took all four of our classes on a three-day overnight trip to Mackinac Island. We took the trip as a culmination to our year-long study of Michigan. The trip supported math, reading, science, social studies and more as we toured the forts, participated in bird watching, stopped at the Dow Chemical facility in Midland to learn how Saran Wrap was made and so much more. It was a trip my colleagues and I still talk about to this day!
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? It sounds cliché but truly, watching students learn and grow academically and socially throughout the year is so rewarding to me. By the end of the year, we realize how far we have come as a class and that makes me proud to have been a part of that process—whether it was small or monumental. I also absolutely love it when my former students come back to visit.
What has surprised you most about the profession? What has surprised me most about teaching is the negativity that teaching has gained over the recent years. Many people fail to understand how incredibly hard teachers work at balancing all of the intricacies of day-to-day teaching. During the summer, most teachers are reflecting, revising their programs, trying to keep up with new technology or continuing one’s learning by engaging in professional development courses. Learning is life-long for students and teachers and learning doesn’t stop once summer break begins.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? I wish our profession was more valued and respected on an external level and teachers were better recognized, financially. Teachers always ask, “ What is best for our children?” but there are many times state mandates are out of our circle of control and that can be difficult for parents and educators to accept.
What would you tell a college student who is considering teaching? I would tell a student that education is more complex now than ever before, but still very rewarding. I would communicate that it is a job where you give so much of yourself, your time, and your energy and to prepare for that. However, when you can identify the areas in education that best fits your interests and skill set, you will be on your way! I would also suggest gaining experiences in working with students along the way before fully deciding your path. Try tutoring, volunteering at after-school centers, or observing or assisting teachers to help you decide if teaching is the career choice for you.
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life? This year, I am so excited to have my son join our Lawton community as a kindergartener. It makes my heart swell to see my little man running around outside at recess. In my personal life, however, I am grieving my father’s passing. He passed away this summer and there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t miss him. My father was always supportive of my career choice, and I will continue to work hard to make him proud.