Ready to Shake Things Up!
Angie’s TrueSchool Story
By Angie Wittmus, TrueSchool State Lead
Most people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I was one of the lucky ones; I knew at six-years-old that I would be a teacher. It was in Mrs. Samson’s first-grade class where I watched her work with groups of children in math and phonics. She was kind, beautiful, and she loved us. I watched as she gracefully moved through the classroom in her dress and heels, her perfectly styled hair and painted nails, checking our work and handing out pieces of candy – those orange gummy slices coated in sugar. One day, when I finished my work before the rest of the class, Mrs. Samson asked me if I would help her grade some math papers. I would do anything for Mrs. Samson, so I agreed. Sitting at her round table with her teacher’s edition math book, the big thick spiral book with all the answers, and a red pen, she showed me how to mark problems and write the total at the top. Holding that red pen with all the answers at my hand, I felt like a real teacher.
I knew then and there that I would be a teacher just like Mrs. Samson.
As school years passed, I had a handful of teachers that nurtured and supported my desire to be a teacher. They would give me their extra copies of worksheets, an old grade book they weren’t using anymore, and my most cherished teacher possession, a green and white E-Z Grader so I could figure out percentages. I took these materials and created my own classroom at home. In the early years, it was stuffed animals that I taught. As I got older, I had a few willing participants, but most of the neighborhood children didn’t want to play with me because I wanted to play “school” and make them do worksheets so I could grade their papers.
During my first years of teaching third grade in north St. Louis, I learned about hands-on teaching as a pilot teacher for new science curriculum, later transferring those skills to other areas of my professional life. Later I moved to rural Missouri and learned the importance of teacher support and motivation for better retention and perseverance.
In the field of education, you can be in the classroom for your entire career, or jump at the many opportunities that come with the profession. I had opportunities like going back to school for a Master’s degree, becoming a specialist in Gifted Education due to the injustices I witnessed with this special population of students, National Board Certification to further hone my professional skills, and adjunct professor to mentor up and coming pre-service teachers to name a few. Each one of these allowed me to network with other educators, learning from them and having them support me to become better for my students.
At the heart of it all, I was building relationships.
Being an adjunct professor in the College of Education at a local university really opened my eyes to the current issue of teacher retention in the United States. On my end, I was teaching the new up-and-coming teachers chomping at the bit to get into their classrooms and begin the first year of their beloved careers. This was incredibly satisfying work – knowing that not only am I making a difference in the classroom, but I am sending passionate educators to further improve children’s lives.
As time passed, I became aware of a disturbing trend. I would run into former university students at the grocery store or getting an oil change and have the typical catch-up chat. You know, “How are you doing?” and “How is teaching?” More often than not, I was getting the response that they were no longer in the profession. How can that be? I just had them in class 3-5 years earlier. I wrote glowing recommendation letters addressing their strengths for future classrooms. I sent them off after graduation ready to change the world. What happened?
The answers were always the same. They couldn’t keep up. They got burned out. The expectations were unreal.
There was not adequate support for beginning teachers. Their job consumed their lives and they had no balance between work and family, so they chose family. Every response was heartbreaking.
Even as I taught in public school classrooms, I noticed a similar pattern of veteran teachers – retiring at the first opportunity or completely leaving the profession for the same reasons as my beginning teachers. I lost many vivacious and talented colleagues because of this. What a disservice to our children. I knew our school system was in grave danger when educators were leaving at both ends of the experience spectrum.
I wanted to make the lives of kids better, but instead of doing it one child at a time in my own classroom, I decided to look at the bigger picture. By focusing on teachers – recruiting and retaining them – and through their talents, create better learning environments for children, therefore making a bigger impact overall.
It was at this crossroads of paradigm shift and complacency in my status quo where I decided to become an educational consultant, coach, facilitator…anything to get me beyond my classroom and working with more teachers.
When I applied to be a TrueSchool Coach, TrueSchool was in its first year of working with the prestigious Kellogg Grant that focused on early literacy. They were specifically looking for coaches who understood the undercurrent of frustration with educators and were looking to make radical changes in education from the ground-up. The TrueSchool Process places major emphasis on empathy. Through a facilitated process and audacious coaching,TrueSchool gave the power and control back to the teachers in the classroom in order to address the individual needs of their school through the lens of empathy.
I was assigned to work with four elementary schools in Western North Carolina. I was trained and was confident in delivering the TrueSchool method to aspiring educators ready to shake things up!
Jumping in – because the time is now and there is no more time to let our schools idle – I began the work of coaching my elementary schools in person and virtually.
After those first few weeks, I saw engagement and excitement from the teachers who were originally skeptical that TrueSchool was “just another PD to endure.” I saw the love and passion for teaching reigniting for my teachers who now saw the process for what it was. One teacher was surprised when I asked her what she thought about reading practices in her grade level, because she had never been personally asked about her opinion. Another teacher loved being able to work with his colleagues to formulate a plan around a group of students who needed extra literacy support based on a home visit they conducted. They all came to realize that through this self-guided process, they were really going to make a difference for their students and community.
Every elementary school was different, but powerful outcomes to radically change their school rose up based on their original data and information they gained from focusing on empathy in their parents, children, community, and teachers. One school harnessed the power of local businesses to work with their students on literacy-based projects and as an added result, they created three extra planning hours for their teachers! Another school focused on teacher support and self-care to better service their students.
In the end, though I was assigned only four schools, my outreach spanned all the elementary schools as the other coaches and I collaborated with one another to better everyone’s outcome. I touched not only the educators, teacher-leaders, and administrators I worked with, but also their colleagues within their schools, multitudes of elementary classrooms filled with students gaining and succeeding from their teachers working through the TrueSchool design process, entire schools and their districts that reached out into their communities through this process, and ultimately, my work spanned the entire state of North Carolina!
For now, I am in my niche – I went from the girl who wanted to work with children to make an impact, to the educational coach affecting the learning outcomes and environments to children all across the state of North Carolina!
I hope my schools continue to reach out beyond state borders and share what they have learned. It is my desire to continue working with TrueSchool so that I may continue to support and soon globally support educators through empathy, support, and radical audacity! I think Mrs. Samson would be proud of me!
TrueSchool State Lead for Missouri
Anglia Wittmus is a National Board Certified Teacher and Gifted Education Specialist that is personable and heartfelt about developing dynamic educators. She believes educator support and empowerment are essential to meet the diverse needs of all learners. Experience, creativity, and a sincere love of teaching drive her design and facilitation in adult learning and professional development.
A champion of educator retention, she provides support through meaningful workshop experiences and clear communication for the cultivation of tomorrow’s explorers. She brings over 20 years of classroom experience at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary level. Anglia holds a Master of Science in Classroom Instruction and is currently a doctoral candidate in educational technology and e-learning.