Jaelyn (Saulmon) Winkle is a Fall 2013 graduate of Ball State University. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in English Education and an Honors College certification. Currently, she is a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher in Piqua, Ohio and resides in Vandalia, Ohio with her husband, a law student at the University of Dayton. Additionally, she is enrolled as a graduate student at Ball State University in the online Curriculum and Educational Technology program.

How did your degree in English lead to your current job?

My degree in English Education helped me to get my current job because it not only trained me to specifically teach Language Arts classes, but also prepared me to take risks, which ultimately allowed me to take on my current position as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher. My journey to my current position started in my student teaching experience at Monroe Central Jr./Sr. High School in Parker City. I was student teaching in two different classrooms: an 8th grade classroom and an 11th/12th grade classroom. During this time, one of the math teachers was getting ready to have a baby, and my principal approached me about taking a long-term substitute teaching position in this Algebra II classroom. I had no experience teaching math and really had no idea exactly how everything would work out, but I agreed to take on this position. Even though this was far outside of my training as an English major, I feel like the skills I picked up from the degree (communication, creativity, analysis) allowed me to take the risk and rise up to the occasion of teaching Algebra II.

As this long term substitute teaching position was nearing its end, I received another phone call from a principal back in my hometown school district in Winchester. He called to ask if I would take on a 4th grade long term substitute teaching position for 8 weeks. Once again, this was very much outside of my comfort zone, as the youngest group of students I had ever taught was 7th grade, but I decided to take the risk, thanks once again to the skills and abilities I picked up from my English degree.

Ultimately, having these experiences on my resume helped me greatly in the career searching process. When I interviewed for my current teaching position, I was able to show my versatility from these experiences and had a plethora of teaching strategies and student samples I could talk about and draw from, which ultimately helped me to land my current position as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher. I truly think that my experiences as an English major allowed for all of these things to happen. It is interesting, but I think that, because I was required to take classes in all areas of the English department:  literature, creative writing, rhetoric, and teaching English Language Arts, that I learned to be adaptable, which allowed me to take on these great experiences. 

Please describe a typical day for you right now.

A typical day for me usually starts around 7 a.m. I get to school and start organizing everything for the day. My kids start coming into the classroom around 7:30 a.m. I teach three sections of general level 7th grade Language Arts and a 30 minute Advisory period. During these sections of class, I am giving direct instruction to my students, facilitating small group work, conferencing with students, and helping students demonstrate mastery of the lesson’s objectives. I also have a 45 minute planning period in the middle of the day. During this time, I make contact with parents, plan for upcoming weeks, make copies and organize materials for upcoming lessons, and meet with my interdisciplinary team of teachers. After school, I usually organize for the next day, tidy up my room, and often have a committee meeting for Advisory, Collaborative Leadership, or for a particular student concern. Then, I drive home and work more on school things (typically creating differentiated student groups for the next day, grading, etc.) and work on things for my Ball State graduate classes. I am usually in bed by 10!  This routine definitely makes for long days, but it is a rewarding job!

You’ve talked about a time as a college student when you weren’t exactly sure whether you wanted to continue in the English Ed major. Can you talk a little more about that and how you worked through it? What advice do you have for teaching majors who are having second thoughts?

When I was just starting out in the program, the fall and spring semesters of my freshman year, I was a little hesitant about continuing my pursuit of an English Education degree. I was working in the Marketing and Management office at Ball State and really started considering a path toward a business degree. I am not sure what sparked this potential change…I think it was a combination of wanting to try something new just because everything was new during the start of my college experience, and knowing about the stresses of a career in teaching from my parents. Ultimately, though, as I began to get into the classroom more and more throughout the program, I knew that my passion was with working with kids, because, ultimately, teaching boils down to making an impact on the lives of kids each and every day. There is nothing like being in a classroom full of 13 year olds who are fully engaged in what you are teaching. You can feel the electricity in the room when students are really “getting it”, and that exact feeling is what motivates you to continue pushing forward each day. If you are a teaching major who is having second thoughts, try your hardest to get into a classroom so you can see what a day of teaching is really, truly like. We can read about how teaching works and teaching methodology as much as we’d like, but we cannot truly gain an understanding of the profession without firsthand experience.

You’re pursuing a graduate degree now. What do you hope to do with that degree in the long term?

Right now, I am pursuing a degree in Curriculum and Educational Technology through Ball State. My plans are to eventually get involved in leadership at the district level as a Curriculum Director, as I am really interested in curriculum development, data analysis, school improvement, and assessment for growth toward mastery. In the very distant future, I could see myself also getting involved potentially with educational policymaking on a larger scale.  

Any last general advice?

  • Get into the classroom as soon as possible! Volunteer, observe, substitute teach…do whatever you need to do to get your feet wet and experience the real life of a teacher. This will help you decide if teaching is truly for you!
  • Read professional texts on your own, not just because they are assigned reading for methods courses! This summer I read Dream Class by Michael Linsin and it really changed my ideas about classroom management and organization. Other good reads I’ve checked out recently are Unshakeable by Angela Watson and Assessment 3.0:  Throw Out Your Gradebook and Inspire Learning by Mark Barnes.
  • Form relationships with your peers: Right now, you are in classes with people who will become your teaching colleagues in districts all around Indiana and beyond. Form relationships now, because these people will be an invaluable resource to you down the road. I am still in touch with the people I went to classes with in the English Education program. We share lesson plans, discuss best practices, and serve as support systems for each other because we really understand each others’ struggles as beginning Language Arts teachers. Check out our Facebook group BSU Teaching English Language Arts…you will find tons of gems there!
  • TAKE YOUR LAMP UNIT SERIOUSLY. There is not a piece of advice I could give you that is more important during student teaching than to take your LAMP unit seriously. All parts of the LAMP unit (pre-assessment, data collection and analysis, standards based rubric construction, focused student groupings) are all aspects of what great teachers do regularly. It is not an arbitrary assignment or just a hoop to jump through to graduate and get your license. It is real world, real life, good teaching.

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