Andrea Magness, Tech Ed teacher at Shattuck High School, was inspired during Covid to start a project in her class called Yard Cards to deliver messages to the community. Four senior girls in her yearbook class took on the project and it has been wildly successful. Signs have been requested for team sports, welcome back to school and holidays. “It’s so rewarding to see the students work in class and have fun while working,” she said. Watch more of Mrs. Magness’ story.
Michael Lewis, Science Teacher, Union Public Schools
From the student who wanted to blend into the walls to becoming the educator who inspires others, Michael Lewis embarked on a teaching career nearly 20 years ago and has never looked back.
The Tulsa Union science teacher never thought he would be able to teach or speak in public. As a kid, Lewis was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and stroke, Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by sudden, repetitive, rapid and unwanted movements or vocal sounds called tics.
Lewis was perfectly happy blending in with the walls.
“As long as no one noticed me, no one made fun of me. I never considered teaching for me as a possibility when I was a kid. But that experience helps me,” he said. “When kids see their teacher as an example in front of them saying, ‘I was where you are,’ it is kind of inspiring. We should live our lives to give others a little bit of inspiration.”
Called to teach
Education is extremely important to Lewis. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In 2002 he earned his alternative Teacher certification, and started teaching that fall.
Lewis teaches because he believes it is a calling. “For me personally, my desire to teach is an opportunity that God put in my heart to help kids,” he said. “I want my classroom to be a place where kids can find hope and safety. If kids feel safe in the classroom, learning is absolutely going to happen.”
For eight years Lewis has taught middle school Science at Union Public Schools in Tulsa. Prior to that, he taught Business and Computer Technology for 11 years at Skiatook High School.
Surrounded by educators, teaching is a family affair for Lewis. Lewis’ wife is a teacher at Owasso and recently received her national board certification. Their middle daughter teaches fifth graders in Owasso. And his sister is a special education teacher in Moore.
“Because education is so important to me, I’ve always told my kids – my three daughters, as well as my students – they must get an education,” Lewis said. “And, there are three ways to get your education: go to college, go to vo-tech or join the military. There is a fourth way and it is called ‘the school of hard knocks’, but it is extremely difficult, it never ends, and never pays well.”
A strong work ethic
Michael gets his work ethic from his parents.
“My dad was a truck driver. My mom was a stay at home mom and she did alterations for people for extra income. She eventually became a secretary. Both parents graduated high school and were adamant about education. My parents told my sister and I that education was not an option, it was expected. My sister was the first person in my whole family to have a college degree and I was the second.”
The blessings of teaching
“I can never retire because teaching is something I have always enjoyed,” said Lewis, who also enjoys teaching the Bible at church. “As long as I am healthy I will keep teaching. I enjoy the subject matter. I am always very blessed with the students I get to teach every year.”
Lewis recalls a couple of students who had a great impact on him.
“I was teaching computer technology to high school students, introducing them to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I had a special education student come to my class with his individualized education plan (IEP),” Lewis said. “There was a whole host of issues this student was dealing with. On top of these issues, he was poverty stricken. I was told by the Special Ed Teacher, that if this kid can recognize letters on the alphabet that would be awesome. By the end of the year, he was actually typing and putting together sentences.”
Another amazing student encounter for Lewis occurred early in his teaching career.
“I had only been teaching for a few years and I had particular student who was going to drop out and get a GED. He got his GED and went in to the Army,” Lewis said. “His drill sergeant was working on his masters and didn’t know how to make PowerPoint slides. My former student learned how to make PowerPoint slides from my classes and I understand he finished his basic training in an office chair in air conditioning. He was taught valuable skills he used in life.”
Lewis is coming up on 20 years of teaching and his advice for someone wanting to enter the world of teaching is to do so because you want to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. There are so many opportunities to do that very thing. “I tell people I have a pretty good gig, he said. “I can’t complain.”
When Lewis isn’t teaching, he likes to write. He’s written and had a book published, titled, “Common Sense with a Side of Gravy.” He’s also written a couple of short films, having produced one and hoping to produce another later in the spring. Plus, Lewis is always looking at ways to remodel his home.
You can read more about Lewis in a feature story on the Tourette Association of America blog.
Alyson Slack, Parkview Elementary in Midwest City
An avid reader, performer and daughter of an educator, Alyson Slack knew at an early age she wanted to be a teacher. She taught pre-school, helped her mom with lessons and earned a double major from Oklahoma Christian University in early childhood and elementary education.
“While I was growing up, I would help my mom with her lessons. I really enjoyed helping mom,” Slack said. “I felt like I had a good rapport with children and at my church, I would teach preschool. I enjoyed working with the kids, seeing them smile and helping them learn. I realized I could have a positive effect on the lives of children. I felt like it was one of my gifts to help kids enjoy learning.”
At an early age, Slack won an award for storytelling. It was at that time she found out she enjoyed performing. And if you spend any time around her, you know she loves to sing.
“Children learn through music and movement, and there are different ways I can introduce those into the curriculum,” said Slack, who can always be heard singing in the classroom. “I enjoy that I can teach all of the subjects and integrate them all together.”
Last May, she bought a ukulele and is learning how to play. She hopes it will go along well with her singing and she hopes to provide background music in her classroom.
Slack currently teaches first grade and virtual school at Parkview Elementary in Midwest City. She teaches first graders from several different schools in the district through the learning platform, Canvas. She previously served as a kindergarten teacher for 12 years.
An Opportunity to Learn New Things
“It has been interesting to learn the standards for first graders and for virtual learning at the same time,” Slack said. “I was excited to expand my learning and use new technology. I enjoyed learning about Canvas, editing videos and putting things together in Google Slides. Our school put some curriculum together for teachers. Luckily, I have eight people on my team I can bounce ideas off. It’s been so interesting to meet new people with new ideas on teaching and feed off of their energy.
“We are adapting so well. I am very fortunate to work with the teachers I do. We had to adapt and there were frustrating moments but it helped us to bond quickly and our team had similar philosophies about teaching. We were going to help each other.”
When asked about how her class is doing during the pandemic, Slack mentioned that virtual learning and first graders make for a very interesting combination.
“At the end of last year, we went virtual and that time helped us set up how things would work. A lot of kids had not worked with Canvas. We had to coach the parents on how to be coaches for their children and how to navigate the software. The parents would videotape their children reading a book or doing math problems. Once we were able to coach the parents, we got to see the kids every week through the videos.”
Using Google Meet, her class meets weekly so they can interact, and have social and emotional learning that is so critical for students. Slack said some students have thrived from the start of virtual learning and believes that she will someday have some YouTube stars since they are used to seeing themselves on video.
For Slack, no two days are the same and none are boring. She says every day is new and has interesting things in store for her.
“I really have found that I love teaching because I personally love having an impact on those kids and I love being a support for the families,” Slack said. “Being able to offer a safe place for the kids so they can enjoy learning is so important to me. Besides, I really enjoy learning. Year before last, I attended trauma informed learning. I learned how to provide support for my students, and help them learn and deal with their emotions so they can become confident learners.”
Why Should Someone Consider Teaching as a Career?
“I would say anybody who has a heart for working with children and enjoys building relationships with kids should consider a career in education. We need teachers who put kids first. There is so much that goes into teaching that you can build so many skill sets. You teach resiliency and how to deal with emotions. Anybody who wants to make an impact will find teaching a very interesting job. Every day is different and you are constantly learning and growing. Learning doesn’t end and you can be a lifelong learner. I’m still learning every day.”
A Lasting Impact
Of all the benefits of teaching, Slack said students who make an impact on her provide the greatest benefit. “Sometimes I have kids who come to kindergarten or first grade and they are angry, not very social. They are not open to wanting to play with friends or making friends. I have been able to put my trauma informed training to good use. I saw how some of the techniques such as calm down corner, yoga or breathing techniques can help. These techniques can help students have more positive feelings. I got to see those skills come into practice when I observed a young student come out of their shell. It was so rewarding to see this child feel more confident and know that they belonged in school. That was really rewarding and made teaching worth it. I can give students tools, not to only use in kindergarten and first grade, but in other grades, to help them independently help themselves.”
By Leif Francel, 7th-8th Grade Religion Teacher and 5th-8th Grade Science Teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Okarche
I absolutely love teaching. It is a beautiful experience that enables you to serve all kinds of people. You care for children that are poor and rich, black and white, academically gifted and academically challenged. You get a chance to meet their families and their siblings.
It is so rewarding!
I was called to teaching with a desire to serve. I now teach at Holy Trinity Catholic School and get to share my knowledge and my faith with my students. What a wonderful calling! I think someone should go into teaching if they want to make a difference. But they should also understand the full picture. There will be difficult days where you may feel disrespected or that you are not supported.
Yet, the silver lining is that you have a huge impact on the world and on every life you meet. The children will remember you and just the fact that you cared. They will remember it forever!
I plan, God willing, to stay in education and in the classroom for the remainder of my working life. It is a most fulfilling profession, and I cannot imagine being anywhere else.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, POE would like to highlight one of our employees who is a breast cancer survivor, a long-term educator and a valued member of our REP team.
Carol Mattoon began her education career in Frederick, Oklahoma by teaching 4th graders and physical education. She then went to a K-8 school teaching all subjects except math. She even coached a boys’ basketball team for seven years, with two of those years achieving an undefeated record. She finished up her last 15 years by teaching 8th grade English.
“I had always planned on being a teacher,” said Carol, who graduated from Cameron University with a double major in elementary education and physical education. “I had aunts and uncles who were teachers and by being around family members who taught, I knew teaching would be a great opportunity. As a teacher, you are a mom, a nurse, a confidant. You have the lives of young people in your hands.”
Carol is a REP for POE’s Region 3 which includes Creek, Grant, Kay, Kingfisher, Logan, Noble, Pawnee, Payne and Osage counties. She also works with our student chapters, “When I go out to the colleges to speak, I always tell them, ‘You are going to have really good days and you are going to have really bad days. However, you are going to make a difference in a person’s life. You need to care for each student as a person because you may be the only person who cares.’
“I remember looking out the window one day while I was teaching, thinking, ‘Can I come back to school tomorrow?’ Then I turned around and saw one of my young students leaving a note on my desk. She brought me a stuffed animal and left it along with the note. Then I thought, ‘Yes, I can come back.’”
Carol kept teaching for 30 years. She has former students who might be in their 50s today come up and say, “Ms. Mattoon, you were my favorite teacher.” These moments mean the world to Carol. From the “I love yous” to thank you notes to flowers, Carol still cherishes these sweet moments that make teaching worthwhile.
After retiring from teaching in 2002, Carol went to work for child welfare part-time before joining POE. She has been at POE now for seven years. She enjoys being a REP because she can still be with educators, visiting with them and helping them, whether personally or by referring them to POE’s legal department. The care she had for her students is the same care she provides POE members.
Two years after retiring from education, Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer.
As with teaching, Carol’s attitude was critical. “When you find out you have cancer, attitude is everything. Cancer was a setback in my life and it was not going to stop me. It was not going to get me down. It was not going to change my life.”
Carol knew she was going to lose her hair so she bought a couple of wigs. She was determined that chemo treatments were not going to make her sick and they didn’t. Carol was winning her battle with breast cancer. However, two years later the cancer came back. Again, she was determined not to get sick, despite going through radiation the second time.
As a two-time breast cancer survivor of 16 years, Carol’s advice to others is that you if you think something is wrong check it out. “My mammogram never showed a thing; however, I could feel a lump. I had an ultrasound and it didn’t show anything. Finally, a biopsy showed that I had cancer.”
Following her diagnosis, Carol kept going like she always has.
“I want to do anything,” Carol said. “I want to experience everything.”