With help from Lawrence mayor, educators at Billy Mills kick off semester remembering why they teach

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Lawrence Mayor Jennifer Ananda speaks to the faculty of Billy Mills Middle School on Monday, Jan. 6, 2019. Ananda was a guest speaker for the faculty's first day back before the spring semester classes begin on Wednesday.

With the help of Lawrence Mayor Jennifer Ananda, faculty members of Billy Mills Middle School prepared for the spring semester by reminding themselves why they teach.

Ananda, who served as a guest speaker for the teachers’ first day back to school on Monday, set an example for them by explaining why she ran for the Lawrence City Commission.

She said she began serving her community as an advocate, including working as an attorney for cases of sexual and domestic violence and immigration law. But she later realized she could make a difference in her community by running for the Lawrence City Commission and focusing on the root cause of issues rather than on their symptoms.

“I love getting at the root of things,” Ananda said. “I wanted to do work at the roots in policy, addressing the real problems.”

Following Ananda’s lead, Billy Mills Principal Keith Jones had the faculty members fill out sheets of paper with similar statements that explained their reasons for becoming teachers. The exercise was meant to help teachers, who are rested after a winter break, to get in the teaching spirit before the students return to class on Wednesday.

Jones also had some of the teachers read their responses on camera so he could show them to them later as good reminders of what they love about teaching, he said.

“When it’s tough in April, I can say, ‘Boom, this is what you said on tape,'” Jones told the teachers.

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Keith Jones, principal of Billy Mills Middle School, speaks to the faculty of the school on Monday, Jan. 6, 2019.

For Catherine Meihaus, an art teacher at the school, teaching offers the opportunity to be a lifelong learner. She said she’s constantly learning from her students while also learning to improve as an educator. Teaching is “nonstop” learning because of the many changes in curriculum and teaching techniques, she said.

Meihaus also enjoys teaching middle school classes because they were important in her own education, she said.

“Middle school really clicked for me,” she said. “I hope to have a few students that I make that click with.”

As shown through a team building exercise, where the faculty members wrapped up four teachers in toilet paper to resemble mummies, Anna Busby said she teaches because of the love in the building. She said that love could be felt from the students, faculty and administrators.

Busby, who teaches respect and responsibility as well as science, said that early in her career she was much more focused on just teaching science. But now she now understands it’s much more important to make a deeper, personal connection with the students within the teaching.

“To find that love in each one of them just brings so much joy to my heart,” Busby said.

photo by: Dylan Lysen

The Billy Mills faculty present orchestra teacher Whitney Maxwell, center, as a mummy wrapped in toilet paper for a team bonding activity.

While speaking to the teachers, Ananda acknowledged that they were important to students’ lives and their jobs were not easy. She explained that her own experience in middle school meant a lot to her because that’s when she made connections with teachers and made lifelong friends.

As mayor, Ananda meets with a lot of different people and makes difficult decisions for the City of Lawrence, she said. But none of that compares with the difficulty of being a teacher.

“You have my respect and my admiration,” she said. “No matter how many times I tell you thank you, it would never be enough.”

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