Spotlight: Aimee Schade (IN '16)January 31, 2017
What's the best way to attract and retain new teachers? Honor their hard work, showcase student growth and celebrate educators' impact on young lives, says TAP Master Teacher Aimee Schade (IN '16). She received her Milken Educator Award at West Goshen Elementary on October 6, 2016.
Milken Educator Awards: How did you end up in education?
Aimee Schade (IN '16): I loved everything to do with learning at a young age. I couldn't wait to get on the school bus. I remember learning how to write my name at a very young age and writing it everywhere, even carving it into the wood windowsill in my bedroom (I got in some trouble for that). Then I started lining up my stuffed animals on my bed, making up tests and having my mom pretend to be each "student" and take the tests so I could grade them. I had a teacher's desk in my room and it was overflowing with report cards and worksheets I had created. In second grade my teacher would give us old textbooks and supplies that I took home and used in my pretend school. That's when I realized I was going to be a teacher. I never questioned that decision.
MEA: Why did you decide to teach elementary school?
Aimee: I am passionate about students of all ages achieving their goals and learning. Through some volunteer work I do with my church, I actually found out that I really enjoy working with middle school and high school kids too. I think I picked elementary mainly because I don't have one favorite subject and like to make connections across the curriculum while I am teaching.
I'm sometimes frustrated by the obstacles some students have to overcome with their everyday learning. It doesn't always seem fair for some to work so hard to achieve what comes naturally to others. But to see that light bulb go off and witness students feeling successful and proud of their effort—that is the most fulfilling part of my job.
MEA: What was your first job?
Aimee: Babysitting for kids in my neighborhood. I made fliers and advertised my business. I liked the responsibility of taking care of kids and creating fun activities to do with them while I was babysitting.
MEA: Any other educators in your family?
Aimee: I have a brother and sister-in-law who are both educators in Tennessee. I love getting together with them and talking about our similarities and differences in teaching.
My biggest influence in pursuing a career in teaching and eventually taking on a leadership role as a TAP Master Teacher was my mom, who passed away two years ago. She was not a teacher, but she could have been: passionate about helping others, always seeing the positive in you and pushing you to do your best. Her encouragement got me where I am today, and for that I will always be grateful.
MEA: What was your most challenging subject?
Aimee: Math. It didn't come easily for me and frustrated me throughout my education. It wasn't until I started teaching and breaking the math concepts down for students into specific steps that things started to make sense. When I was 24 and had been teaching for two years, I remember calling my mom and telling her how I was finally understanding the "why" of math. Nobody had ever taken the time to explain it to me. I think about that often when I'm teaching: How I can ensure that same thing doesn't happen to my students?
MEA: Tell us about your first class.
Aimee: If I could go back and teach my first class with the knowledge I have now, they would be so much better off! They were a memorable group of students with widely varying abilities. That was the hardest part for me—trying to differentiate so that everyone was challenged. I had a little boy who barely spoke English. One of my best memories from that year is sharing with his parents the amazing growth he had made and what he was capable of doing. The dad had tears streaming down his face because he was so proud of his son. That little boy is now succeeding in college and on track to graduate.
MEA: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?
Aimee: For the first couple of weeks I was famous and rich. Students wanted to know if I was going to build a new school or take everyone to Disneyland. I spent some time in classrooms explaining that I worked hard, never gave up and was not expecting to win an award. I also talked about how their very own teachers all could have won the same award for their hard work. This helped add even more positive energy to our building and helped others realize what great things we have going on at West Goshen.
MEA: What do you hope your students remember about you and their time in your class?
Aimee: I want the students I work with to remember that I always believed (and always will) that they could accomplish anything they put their mind to, no matter how difficult the task.
MEA: What's your favorite time of the school day?
Aimee: The morning, when I am opening car doors in the drop-off line. I love starting the students' morning by telling them to have a great day, talking with them about something they accomplished in their classroom the day before or encouraging them to try their best. Kids need to have a positive start to their morning and hopefully this interaction stays with them throughout their day.
MEA: What's the biggest challenge you face at school?
Aimee: Working with 29 teachers on a weekly basis and ensuring that the professional development I am presenting to them is differentiated and gives them all the ability to learn and grow as educators.
MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars for your school, what would you do with it?
Aimee: I would give the students as many experiences as I could: museums, zoos, performances, outdoor education, etc. I'd give them experiences to talk and write about.
MEA: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?
Aimee: I think I would be doing something in social work; I always said I would be a teacher during the school year and a social worker in the summer. Of course, I said that before I realized the preparation it takes in the summer to be ready to teach during the school year!
MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?
Aimee: Acknowledge and honor teachers for their hard work. Showcase the growth our students are making and how teachers have made an impact on the lives of others. Teaching is challenging, but when a district or building offers the right support and environment, it encourages teachers to stay and do their best for their students.
MEA: Finish this sentence: "I know I’m succeeding as an educator when…"
Aimee: …my students are presented with experiences that provide them with opportunities to ask questions, engage in their learning, set goals for themselves, and above all show growth academically. And then, months or even years later, I know I'm succeeding when a student thanks me with a hug, smile or note.
Don’t miss any new articles and updates from Milken Educator Awards: