Jan Schuettpelz (far left) joins teachers from her cohort to represent mathematical concepts with their bodies at an Inspired Teaching practicum session. Photo credit: Inspired Teaching.
March 30, 2017
This March, Inspired Teaching spoke with Ms. Jan Schuettpelz. A 2015 Inspired Teacher Leader, Jan is a 7th grade science teacher at Alice Deal Middle School. She was recently named the 2016 DCPS Teacher of the Year.
You won the 2016 DCPS Teacher of Year. Congratulations! Tell us about your journey to this point.
It is surreal to me that I got Teacher of the Year this year. I’m like, really? Did they give this award to the wrong person? This is my fourth year in DC. For my first two years, I was at the lowest point of my career. I do really attribute Center for Inspired Teaching for turning that around.
When I found Inspired Teaching, I had just recently come to DC from North Carolina. I had won many awards, I had been chosen to open a school, and I thought I knew what I was doing. But I came to my new school, and I felt like I was a terrible teacher. I never had felt that before. I thought I was good at this; that it was my calling. When I came here, my first year and into second year, I felt like I was in the wrong profession and that I couldn’t continue to do this.
Every time I ever feel less than confident, I look for help from other entities. I love learning. I love school. I’ve done my Masters, and the National Boards of Certification. I saw Inspired Teaching’s SCALE program [the Inspired Teaching Institute for in-service teachers, focused on standards-aligned science in DCPS]. I was like, Well, I can use my creativity for writing lessons, training my peers in adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), building my inquiry skills. I know what that’s about. Maybe this will be an opportunity and I’ll meet other teachers. I decided to join.
I was more excited when it wasn’t just a simple application. In the interview, it was: “Do this lesson plan,” “Teach this.” Then there was a problem-solving component. Once I was in that interview, I knew it was a fantastic thing. I had to be a part of it. To be part of a group, to be challenged, really come alive. That was a surprise.
I absolutely adore teaching and my classes, but I didn’t think I was doing a good job in my first two years in DC. I thrive on feedback. I want to make my classroom the most joyful place. We are a community. We have a bond, and we go on this journey of learning together. Inspired Teaching helped me do that. I was glad to get back to the child first.
What are your plans now that you have this new power and responsibility?
I have talked to DCPS Chancellor Wilson about the importance of Inspired Teaching. It is really important that opportunities like joining the Inspired Teaching Institute exists, so all teachers can get students moving, engaged, questioning. It means a lot to me.
It’s been a while since a science teacher was named Teacher of the Year. It is easy to overlook science and social studies. Someone needs to advocate: We need to engage our kids; it’s not just, Lets take this test and analyze the results. Instead, let’s continue to make learning come alive! Have inquiry in every class, and still meet our learning goals and support each other.
I’m hoping to be that advocate. Don’t overlook us. We need things like Inspired Teaching to help us out, support us, show us that inquiry teaching is good, that it is not just play, and to help people remember that we are more that testing.
Kids need school to be fun and to make learning come alive. They need to be in charge of their learning. If they are not they will lose interest really quickly. I would like to hopefully work on some level with Chancellor on that.
Describe a typical day in your classroom.
I teach five sections of 7th grade science. There isn’t a typical day! When students come in, music is playing. That cues them to sit down and do their “do now.” When a song starts, a student leader comes to the front of class. (They volunteer for this role.) The students take equity sticks and call on people to go through the “do now,” objective, and homework. Then we get started on whatever the lesson is for the day. Everyone has roles at their tables, denoted by playing cards for each student. For example, card 10 may be in charge of making sure everything is turned in.
I always ask higher order thinking questions. And at the end of each class, I tell my students to make a positive difference in the world and send them on their way!
It sounds like there is a lot of student leadership in classroom. What made you structure your classroom that way?
That came about when Molly, my Inspired Teaching mentor, observed me one day. I always prided myself on being an inquiry-based teacher. I direct the class with questions. But when Molly observed me she asked, “Does this happen in every part of your class?” I realized, “No!” For IMPACT [DCPS’s teacher evaluation system], I have to go through the objective, and do specific things if I want an appropriate evaluation. So I thought to myself, “How else could student-centered learning look?” Molly asked me amazing questions. We started thinking, “Why can’t the students lead during this time? Or that time?” The students love it. Ever since then, the whole of class has been student-centered.
I challenge students to ask each other higher-order thinking questions. They have a chart of question stems; they challenge each other as they start the class. They are so much more engaged and invested. It is not my class — it is their class. They are good at putting their names on the list of leaders. They like that a lot. When I have a substitute, they still lead the class. They look at the substitute plans, and talk the class through what they are supposed to do.
How would you describe your experience at the Inspired Teaching Institute? What would you say to someone trying to decide to take an Inspired Teaching workshop?
I am an introvert. But I will talk a ton when I feel like an expert, when I’ve researched something. When I know that I have something to contribute, or when I am super passionate. I like to know, plan, and understand things.
The first morning, after an improv-based activity involving dancing, at lunch — I joke with Aleta about this still – I told her that dance almost killed me. Literally. [Inspired Teaching’s Senior Teaching & Learning Officer] Cosby tried to make me lead the dance. I gave him a look: “If you do that, I’m running out and never coming back.” He had someone else do it. That is so far out of my element that I was like, “Oh my gosh, what is this?” I remember sitting down after lunch in tears, talking to Aleta, saying, ‘I don’t know if I can continue this; it is not what I thought it was.” She said, “Stick with it. Let’s see how you are after today.” She outlined a few things. After lunch we did more activities, and it all fell into place. That’s what why we did this. It’s brilliant! That makes sense! Each day, I was like, Ooh. I was completely out of my comfort zone, and then would go back into it.
The Inspired Teaching Institute — the Summer Intensive combined with writing curriculum, support from mentors, really great feedback on my lessons, applying what I had done in the summer to lessons — was phenomenal. I thought, “Gosh, I don’t want leave.” I was really excited about everything. It lit a fire under me; inspired me to find that teacher that was there before I moved, recognize that I had value, that what I am doing is good. While I can always be better, I am good.
How has the feedback and support from Inspired Teaching affected your approach to the teaching profession?
After Inspired Teaching, especially after my mentors started observing and giving me feedback, I can now convince other people to try it. Different isn’t bad. It helped me in science team meetings to be more confident with sharing. My mentor also gave me strategies to talk to my administration. I’m not one to go up to the principal and tell him I think he is wrong. I just work hard in my room, fight for what is right for my kids in my classroom. Inspired Teaching helped me advocate for myself in a professional way.
Any last words?
I can’t say enough good words about Inspired Teaching. If you go to the Institute, stick with it. It makes sense eventually. It puts you in the place of a student, which is good for me to keep in mind.