Spotlight: 10 Questions for Maria Rodgers (OH '17)March 5, 2018
Since her Milken Award surprise, Maria Rodgers (OH ‘17) says her students have been putting their best foot forward in class. And there’s another benefit: “Students are telling me that they want to become teachers, too!” Maria won Ohio’s 2017-18 Award at Milkovich Middle School in Maple Heights on January 10, 2018.
1. What went through your mind when you heard your name called at your surprise notification?
Maria Rodgers: I can honestly say that I was in a state of shock when I heard my name called. I thought, Did I really just win $25,000? No way, I’m dreaming!
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Educator Award? What impact has it had on them?
Maria: My current and former students are super excited for me and proud that I am their teacher. They congratulate me every day as I walk through the school. Students I haven’t taught congratulate me as well and tell me they wish they had me. My current students are more willing than ever to put forth their best effort in the classroom each day. More students are telling me that they want to become teachers, too!
3. How did you end up in education?
Maria: I had several teachers who weren’t as effective as they could have been, and a few extraordinary teachers who put in their all to help my classmates and me learn. I remember wondering why the ineffective ones couldn’t inspire us, love us, or set high expectations for us the way the great teachers did. Then I had an epiphany: I wanted to become one of those extraordinary teachers. I wanted to teach students with backgrounds similar to mine. I wanted to inspire them to do great, exceptional things with their minds, and to become whatever their hearts desired.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Maria: An administrator named Stephanie Patrick. She set high expectations for both students and teachers. She was caring to both students and staff, and she always led by example on how to teach and engage students in their lessons.
My grandmother was another role model for me. She may have not been a teacher in a school, but she was my first teacher. She was persistent and loving, and she held me accountable for learning all that I could. She taught me my ABC’s and how to write my full name, address and phone number by the age of four. She taught me to read before kindergarten. She encouraged me to always give my best day in and day out at school. Later, she helped me furnish my first classroom when I became a teacher. She was a great listener and good adviser on how to handle overbearing colleagues, parents, and difficult students.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Maria: One very important thing I learned during my first year of teaching was to “say what you mean and mean what you say.” I think all first-year teachers experience classroom management difficulties. I don’t think we mean to be inconsistent, but we want our students to like us. So when a student breaks a rule—especially if it’s one of our “good students”—we think well, maybe they had a bad day and let it go. Meanwhile the other kids are watching how you handle it and call you on the carpet for not being fair.
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?
Maria: I think students will remember that I loved teaching math and always tried to help everyone else love it too, even the disgruntled, unhappy math students. They will remember the different songs, raps, and activities we did in class to remember math concepts. They will remember the funny costumes I wore to capture their interest on a math concept. They will remember that Mrs. Rodgers set high expectations and expected them to meet them. Most importantly, they will remember that Mrs. Rodgers truly loved them and wanted nothing but the best for them in all that they do.
7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Maria: I need more time. And more technology within my classroom so students have the opportunity to access it every day, not just certain days of the week.
8. How do you think you will use your $25,000 Award?
Maria: I am still thinking about how to use it wisely. I have kids of my own and will definitely be putting some away for their college funds.
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Maria: Being an educator is great, but are you willing to become an extraordinary teacher? An extraordinary teacher is one who is willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure her students master and learn the content. Are you willing to have unwavering patience, especially for those who don’t finish the race in first place in their learning or behaviors? Are you willing to get to know your students, to let them help you design engaging lessons? This job at times may not always thank you for all that you do. You must have an undying love for this career and strive to be truly extraordinary in front of a room of students who will look to you every day for guidance and inspiration, and who will need you to light the fire of their learning.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Maria: Success means having the desire to dream big, the willingness to inspire all those you encounter, and an understanding that at times you will fail. And when you fail, you will quickly arise determined to persevere through any obstacle to make your dream a reality.
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