When Michelle Smith started out teaching elementary school years ago, she never expected to spend most of her career in a middle school classroom. But now, as an 8th-grade English Language Arts teacher at Ferndale Middle School, she couldn’t imagine anywhere else she’d rather be. Michelle is this week’s Extraordinary Educator because she knows how pivotal middle school teachers’ roles are. With all the changes – both physically and emotionally – that can prove challenging for students in middle school, Michelle sees the role of middle school educators as even more crucial.
“The kids are the just beginning to get a feel of who they are and what they can become,” Michelle says of middle schoolers. “They look to their middle school teachers for guidance in what high schools to choose, what classes to take when they get there, and what career paths they may choose. The right words from me may help a student pick a path they never thought they would take or see themselves in a different way. I love having past students come back to tell me about their lives and what they succeeded in because of what I encouraged them to do in middle school.”
Michelle has not only spent her time dedicated to middle school students, but for more than 29 years, Michelle taught Exceptional Children (EC) classes, specializing in teaching children who have a disability. But when she was asked to transition to traditional ELA after another teacher’s departure, Michelle stepped up to the plate to fill the role.
“Last year, Mrs. Kinard, my principal, challenged me by asking me to move from teaching EC to teaching Regular Ed ELA classes due to a teacher resignation,” Michelle explains. “This forced me to leave my comfort zone, and I realized that I can teach advanced students as well as those who have disabilities.”
“During the 2019-2020 school year, Mrs. Michelle Smith showcased her dedication and flexibility,” adds Principal Leslie Kinard. “She showed how important having the right teachers in front of our students can be for their educational growth and learning.”
Michelle, an avid reader, finds excitement and motivation each day in encouraging a love of reading in her students at Ferndale.
“I personally love to read, and I want to share my love of reading with my students,” she says. “With the reading program the district has adopted, teachers read aloud to students daily to model appropriate reading, and my students hate when they miss it. I love seeing students want to read books and talk about what they are reading. They want to know what I am reading at home as well.”
Along with her appreciation for the reading programs at Ferndale, Michelle is also proud of the diversity at her school.
“Students of all nationalities, socio-economic groups, races, and ethnic groups interact on a regular basis,” she explains. “They learn how to respect the perspectives of others and how to work with students of different backgrounds. They also learn how to make others understand their point of view without feeling that they will be ridiculed. I feel like this prepares them for the real world, whether it is higher education or the workforce.”
Michelle challenges her students every year to take what they are learning now – from strong reading skills to critical thinking about differing points of view – into their future life experiences. And she reminds them that hard work is what ultimately leads to success.
“I tell my students that you get out of life what you put into it,” Michelle concludes. “If you work hard and do the best you can, you will be successful at something. Don’t make excuses for why you didn’t get all you want if you didn’t really try or you did the bare minimum.”
We’re glad that we have educators in High Point like Michelle who go beyond the bare minimum, challenging themselves and their students to be the best they can be.
Keep discovering our High Points,
Photography by Maria West Photography