Inspirational Educators: Jodie Donner – The Kids Amaze and Inspire Me All of the Time. I Love Them.

This was in 2012, when I received the Achievement Above All Award as the Independence High School Media Center Director.

How long have you been teaching?

This is my 18th year as an educator. I started in 1999 at Thunderbird High School.

Why did you choose teaching as a career?

My passion has always been writing and reading. Much of that developed due to the guidance of effective teachers. Especially in high school, I had a few amazing role models who inspired me – Mr. Bowen, Mr. Robbins, Mrs. Mitchell, Mr. Pentland and Mrs. Ryff. They helped me feel confident and smart – even in subjects other than language arts. I learned from them and realized that I could possibly have an impact on students as they had on me. I hadn’t fully determined how, but I knew I wanted to make a difference by sharing my passion with others.

Many people question if our current education system is working. What do you think?

The system is broken and has been for a long time. The foundation of what schools should be doing has disappeared. Funding for public schools is low. Arizona schools function at a funding level equal to 2008. Changes to standards occur without money nor proper time to implement. Money goes to charter schools, which do not have to accept all students, instead of flowing to all students. Teachers spend time stressing about meeting testing standards and passing rates rather than focusing on solid teaching and student accountability. The pressures on teachers are higher than ever before. Respect for the profession is an an all-time low. The system needs a fully-funded and planned overhaul that will produce the best, free education for ALL students.

What would you like to see being taught in our classrooms?

Life skills and responsibility need to be the foundation, along with the subject focus. Of course, students need the core content of math, science, language arts, social studies. They also need career and technical education – vocational education. Some students excel in these paths while not in other areas. Those opportunities can open them up to career possibilities. Students should have choices at the high school levels so they can test out what they may want to do after high school. Students should know about character and community and the importance of giving back and supporting each other.

If you have been teaching for over ten years, describe the changes you’ve seen in students and the teaching profession?

Students are mostly still students. I have taught in upper-middle class schools with less diversity as well as schools with higher poverty rates and great diversity. Kids are kids. The change I have seen with them is not a positive one. A shift has occurred in the last few years that is detrimental to them. Teachers are often expected to provide endless chances for students because schools want students to pass. Unfortunately, this has the negative effect of producing students who lack responsibility. They know that they can eventually turn in assignments or makeup work at the last minute because the teachers will accept anything and everything. This does not convey mastery or learning on the student’s part, and it certainly doesn’t hold a student accountable. This is the biggest change that I predict will have a devastating effect on our students. Life usually doesn’t provide 18 chances. Sometimes, we only have just one. The other change I have witnessed is the attack on educators. This varies by state. Some people in the state, especially those who create laws and provide the funds, show teachers a lack of respect. Those who know nothing about the profession are often the first to criticize it.

Share your proudest teacher moment.

I am fortunate to say I have many from which to choose. Wow. I am amazed at all of the memories of thoughtful students who have impacted my life. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was teaching junior English. I was only a few months along, and with my daughter being due in October, the students I had then would not be mine when she was born. Even so, those students, led by two boys, planned a baby shower. They had a plan to get me out of the room. When I returned, they had decorated the classroom, and presents were everywhere. Two 16-17-year-old boys had organized the event. I am still surprised and amazed at their considerate and caring gesture.

As a media center director, I had library services students. One was particularly important to me. He was so smart and wanted to read and learn. We had many talks about life and literature. I supplied him with books. He said he got a milk crate to store them and, for the first time, he had his own book collection. As a football player, he chose me as the teacher to wear his jersey. I was so proud to represent #88! He also wrote me a letter, on his own accord, to tell me all of the things he appreciated about me. In typical teenager fashion, he said one of the most important elements that made me great was the fact that I wasn’t a “douche.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, a former student, one I taught junior English to ten years ago, sent me a message on Facebook after he received his BA degree in psychology (after serving in the Navy). He wrote, “Hey Jodie, I put on Facebook that I graduated today, and I wanted to thank you for being a really great teacher. I remember in your class you gave us a reading list and we could choose any book, so I chose Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee because of course, I thought it would be short. I actually remember that was the first book I was like holy shit writers can do that? It was amazing to me. And that is when I started to read for fun. You didn’t cram the stuff down our throat and you let us have fun with it. However, the most important thing I learned from you is that I don’t have to be an idiot all the time. I could have gotten so much more from high school if I would have focused more on academics like I do now, but I wasn’t ready. All in all, I’m grateful for having had you as a teacher.

I could share so many more. Kids are remarkable. They amaze me and inspire me all of the time. I love them.

We were competing in a homecoming dance competition. We lost.

What is the most important message about teaching that you would like People to know?

All professions have some people who are not the best and brightest and who may be lazy. Teaching is no different. However, most teachers are compassionate and committed. They will do anything for their students. I have seen and heard of so many stories that go unnoticed. My colleagues put students first, sometimes at the expense of their own families. They do this never expecting nor receiving recognition. They buy food for students who don’t have lunch. They spend an hour after school with two students because those two students are the ones who need and want help learning. They call and email parents who sometimes respond with, “Well, I don’t know what to do with him. If you have ideas, let me know.” They spend hours grading and creating lesson plans and adjusting lesson plans. They buy school supplies because their students come to class without them. They listen and reserve judgment when students tell them their family doesn’t have money for electricity because their mother didn’t save enough this month. They buy cookie dough, candles, T-shirts, candy and any other fundraising item students ask them to purchase (sometimes the same items from multiple students because they can’t say yes to only one). They hold kids in embraces in times of tragedy. They embrace students in times of joy. They create bonds with students that last lifetimes.

How can parents and Educators work together to better to ensure children are successful?

A joint commitment to student success is necessary. Parents should be checking students’ grades regularly. Often, the responsibility to communicate performance lies with the teacher. This is a shared responsibility – both parents and teachers should monitor and pay attention so students do not get lost in the shuffle. The ultimate goal should be student success, and that will happen if everyone involved has the same level of engagement. If a student knows a parent expects the same as the teacher, he will often meet that expectation. If a parent expects nothing and monitors nothing, the teacher has a very difficult time proving the importance of schoolwork. Dedicated parent involvement equals greater student achievement.

What is the most important educational gift parents can provide for their children to help them be successful learners?

Books! Lots of books. Read to them as frequently as possible. Give them choices. Model reading. All kinds of research shows children exposed to reading and books are the most successful. This foundation will guarantee they will have less learning struggles and will perform better. Libraries make this easy and free. This may not ensure kids like learning or school, but the kids who read and who value reading will have better learning experiences.

Who is most Inspirational Teacher you’ve had? Why?

I am reluctant to say this, because I don’t want to add to his ego, but I think Mr. Pentland is probably it. British Literature was an outstanding class in high school. I learned about history and literature together, understanding the dependence of each on the other. I wanted to soak up everything in that class. I felt smart. I felt knowledgeable. I understood and appreciated Shakespeare. He certainly impacted me and influenced my decision to teach English.

How many hours a week do you spend completing all of your duties related to your job. Are there any extra duties that people may find surprising or not consider that you have to complete?

I have been an online teacher for our district the past three years, and that requires much time outside of my workday. I do get paid for that though. I probably work 50 hours a week – at school. While at home, I am still “on call.” I answer emails and often help teachers with questions outside of the workday. As a technology integration specialist, I assist them with their plans, so if they have a question at night while planning, I respond immediately to help them do what they need to do. Also, sometimes technology issues arise that I have to address immediately to be sure things are functioning correctly for users. I coach Academic Decathlon, so I have meetings with my team and prepare learning experiences with them. I do much of that through Google Classroom and Remind and communicate with them all of the time. Finally, I am actively involved in our education association. I never imagined I would need to be politically-active as a teacher, but I find myself advocating for my colleagues and my students by campaigning for funding and candidates who support education. I am also the treasurer, so I complete duties related to that and attend meetings.

What do you think is a fair salary for teachers?

A fair salary is the equivalent of someone who has a similar level of college education. Many make the argument that teachers have so much time off that a low salary is fair. What some people may not realize is that a large number of teachers work at night, on the weekends and during those breaks. What happens in the classroom requires a great deal of preparation. Grading student work and providing authentic, effective feedback takes time. Teachers do usually have one hour of prep time a day. Unfortunately, that time often gets sucked up by paperwork, copies, meetings or subbing. Teachers often have to sub for each other due to a lack of funding. After school, teachers help students, coach or have more meetings. Therefore, they take work home or stay until 4:30 pm or 5:00 pm to complete their duties. When curriculum and standards change, teachers revamp their lessons or start from scratch. This happens more and more, so teachers spend summers rewriting lessons or developing lessons for classes they have never taught before. The days of repeating the same lessons year after year are mostly long gone. Our district is one of the highest paying in the state of Arizona. Starting salary for a teacher with a 4-year degree, who has just taken tests and paid for certification and who likely has a large number of college loans is $34,833. That salary should match what someone in the private sector would make with the same years of education.

Have you ever paid for supplies for your classroom?

Yep!

If you had a wish list of needs for your classroom what would the top three things be?

I don’t have my own classroom right now because I am a technology integration specialist currently. However, I would like to be able to help the teachers I serve by providing them with mice! We are in the process of rolling out Chromebooks for classroom use. Many teachers would love to provide mice for the students as the touchpads are sometimes difficult to use.

1. If I could provide a class set of 35 mice to a teacher, that would be tremendously helpful and appreciated.

If you would like to help Jodie get mice for her school, please email her at: jodie.donner@guhsdaz.org

This was in 2012, when I received the Achievement Above All Award as the Independence High School Media Center Director.

1 Comment

  1. Jodie is obviously a tremendous educator and her devotion to her students is truly inspirational! It makes me happy that there are people like her out there working with America’s youths.

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