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Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - January 2011
Copyright 2010 - Polk County Publishing Company

 

Jackson named educator of the year

 

BY VALERIE REDDELL
Editor
polknews@gmail.com

When Amy Jackson first chose a career path for herself, it was far away from the classroom. Her mother was a third grade teacher and her grandfather was a principal so she majored in art history. She tumbled into teaching a few years after college. “I coached gymnastics a couple of years, so that got me interested in working with students,” Jackson said. Then there was an opening at her former middle school and Jackson went after it. “I fell in love with teaching once I got in the classroom,” she said. “The population had changed quite a bit. It was inner city, at-risk kids,” Jackson said. In her first year as a middle school science teacher, she had 186 kids with 28 to 30 students in her classroom at a time. “That’s what taught me, if there’s not relevance for the concepts you’re teaching. you’ll lose the battle,” Jackson said. Jackson was selected as the Livingston-Polk County Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year because of her creative approach to teaching at Continuum Academy in Livingston. “What I see as most different about my classroom is I see the classroom as a place where I’m a manager. It’s very outcome-based,” she said. “As the leader or manager, I think, ‘what do I want them to be able to get? What skills and knowledge do I want to pop in there along the way?’” “I set parameters and invite them as often as possible to buy-in by choosing a topic that they’re interested in for a project.” Tying skills development to a final product helps students spend as much time as possible on real world learning. “I know there’s things they have to know for tests, and we cover those and move on to things they will use later on in life. Jackson frequently ties curriculum topics to activities outside the classroom. While studying local government, students visited the courthouse and city hall but they also completed a project on how to affect change. “They really dug in on how they would change things and how it would affect people. When they get excited, I get excited,” Jackson said. The students even realized during their project that some people wouldn’t like change, even if it improves the community. Memorizing facts is old school — and unnecessary for the 21st century work force, according to Jackson. Instead, students need to know where in the World Wide Web to find information and evaluate if it’s solid, Jackson said. A skill that is much more practical for the work force of the future is the ability to work through a project, she added. “I see their confidence and maturity rise when they go through this,” Jackson said. Continuum offers a program for sixth through 12th grade students. Continuum will graduate its first two students at the end of the year. Two students will be inducted into the National Honor Society this spring. Jackson moved to Livingston in 2000 and taught at Onalaska I.S.D. before she opened Continuum. She launched the school because she wanted to offer a different environment, especially for students who don’t “play regular school very well,” she said. “I’m not against public schools,” she adds. “I just wanted to do something different and that required me to pull away from them. By being a little more flexible than public schools, Jackson said she can give students a chance to shine. “We focus on their strengths rather than trying to fix the things they’re not,” Jackson said. “As teachers we think we know what they’re good at, but it takes some time to sit down and find out what students really have a passion for.” That time and flexibility means students who want the time to themselves to create perfect slides for a presentation can develop those skills. “Then we teach them that when they’re in a job interview they need to tell the prospective employer that they would rather create the presentation than be the person who stands up and presents it,” Jackson said. Jackson said even though Continuum is tiny, she believes it is a success. “I feel successful because I have a group of stakeholders that get it,” she said. The educator of the year award gives her a deep feeling of acceptance, she adds. She gives credit for her drive to offer an alternative learning environment to her first principal, who is now a hospice patient. “I wouldn’t be a teacher today if it wasn’t for her. She let me design my own course when I was a four-year teacher. Other principals would try to quash that,” Jackson said. “This woman was so great at guiding teachers into doing what they were best at,” she added. “I hope I get to see her. I want to tell her that before she goes. I really appreciate what a great mentor I had. It’s given me a fulfilling career.”

 

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