Spotlight: 10 Questions for Lauren Hopkins (RI '17)March 12, 2018
To keep classic literature relevant to students’ lives, Lauren Hopkins (RI ‘17) includes contemporary songs, young adult literature and discussions of parental pressure in her lessons: “Romeo and Juliet, no longer just characters in a drama, become relatable teenagers fighting to be loved and understood.” Lauren won Rhode Island’s 2017-18 Milken Award at Coventry High School on October 26, 2017.
1. What went through your mind when you heard your name called at your surprise notification?
Lauren Hopkins: I was in complete shock! I went from excitedly scanning the faces of my colleagues for the winner, to freezing in disbelief as my grinning principal, Michael Hobin, approached me. I am still processing this incredible honor.
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?
Lauren: My students, past and present, have shown me enough love to last a lifetime. I had former students surprise me at school with flowers and kind notes, and current students bombard me with hugs in the hallway. I hope this just confirms for them that they will find success if they work hard and follow their passions. They know I love what I do, and I hope that serves as an example for them.
3. How did you end up in education?
Lauren: When I was in sixth grade, my teacher, Mrs. McCormick, showed me the impact a devoted teacher can have on her students’ lives. While I had always loved reading and writing, I lacked confidence in my abilities. I hesitated to share in class, in fear of giving the wrong answer or sounding “stupid.” Mrs. McCormick took the time to speak with me privately, worked to build me up by celebrating my writing, and taught me that my ideas matter. She helped me to find my voice, thus inspiring me to help others find theirs.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Lauren: While I always look to my outstanding colleagues for inspiration, I think my own teachers throughout the years have truly set the bar for me. Mrs. Romani, my high school Spanish teacher, made our class feel like a family. Mr. Peach, my AP English teacher, challenged us daily, and treated us as equals in our study of literature. Ms. Calouri, my Physical Education teacher and coach, demonstrated the importance of committing 100% to any task at hand. The list goes on and on. My teaching is a tribute to those who taught me.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Lauren: At the onset of my career, I often felt overwhelmed with the awesome responsibility of teaching 125 students. Time management was a struggle as I learned to balance correcting, planning, professional development, etc.
But I always loved the relationships I made with my kids. One in particular that stays with me is a relationship I had with a student in my senior English class. She was very talented, but frequently absent and falling behind on her work. We sat down one day to chat, and she shared her struggles with anxiety, and how it kept her from coming to class. We worked to develop a system that made class manageable, with frequent breaks and signals she could use when she struggled. She gave me a beautiful letter at graduation, thanking me for helping her throughout the year. That letter stays in my desk, a reminder of the importance of this career.
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?
Lauren: Conversation. Healthy debates, productive discourse, and lots of laughter.
7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Lauren: Keeping it relevant! If I want my kids to care about “Romeo and Juliet,” I must help them see the connection to their own lives. As we study the drama, I bring in contemporary songs to compliment the action. We discuss parental expectations, and the pressure those can bring. We read a current young adult literature text as a companion, and draw parallels between the two. Ultimately, Romeo and Juliet are no longer abstract characters in a drama—they become relatable teenagers fighting to be loved and understood.
8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Lauren: This will definitely help ease the burden of classroom expenses. I’m not sure, but with two young children, there is never a shortage of possibilities.
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Lauren: Only pursue it if education is your passion. Teaching is both more challenging and more rewarding than I ever could have dreamed possible. I would not have made it past my first year without a deep love for the profession.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Lauren: For me, success is making a career of helping others recognize and achieve their own potential.
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