Ms. Michalski, An Honored Teacher
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“My overriding philosophy is to encourage students to have fun and make mistakes,” Sue Michalski declares. “I think that it is essential to work hard but to also have fun. These two things can coexist.”
Observing any class taught by Ms. Michalski makes it impossible to contest this notion. The intensity of Ms. Michalski’s curriculum is balanced by her seemingly limitless energy and enthusiasm. French classes taught by Ms. Michalski are known amongst students to be rigorously challenging, yet are extolled for being a priceless experience in language learning.
As many of her students leaped out of their seats to applaud her, it was easy to see why Ms. Michalski was the recipient of the Hagedorn Chair. The Hagedorn Chair is an award presented to an outstanding faculty member who has taught at Williston Northampton for at least fifteen years.
A Massachusetts native, Ms. Michalski has taught at Williston since 1999. She has served as an advisor, dorm parent, and advisor for the school’s yearbook in addition to teaching. Ms. Michalski studied at Dartmouth College, where she participated in several study abroad programs including a Linguistic Society of America in Blois, France.
She also attended a Foreign Study Program, a curriculum in which students study subjects such as architecture and literature in a foreign language. Ms. Michalski’s vast knowledge of the French language can be accredited to these programs as well as her education at Dartmouth. Ms. Michalski majored in French and specialized in 17th century French literature. When Ms. Michalski graduated Dartmouth College she was awarded with highest departmental honors.
On the importance of learning foreign languages, Ms. Michalski says, “Language is something that can truly connect everyone. The more languages someone learns, the more we can connect to one another. [Learning language] allows us to be less self-centered…Plus, it activates different parts of your brain.”
It is evident that Ms. Michalski believes what she says regarding language. Her two daughters, Sofia and Stella, were raised to speak both French and English. Now, Sofia and Stella are both enrolled in the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.
Ms. Michalski’s passion for teaching developed from a young age. She remarks that she always knew that she would teach. “I used to line up my stuffed animals with my sister and play school.”
For her, the appeal in teaching lies in watching her students learn and succeed.
“Probably my favorite aspect of teaching is watching new students come into language classes with an attached stigma. They think, ‘this is too hard, this is too different, what the heck?’” Ms. Michalski comments. “It’s rewarding to watch new students relax and allow themselves to make mistakes and begin to appreciate what they are learning.”
Ms. Michalski’s first teaching experience occurred following her attendance of a study abroad program. She noticed an advertisement posted for a family who wanted to teach their young children French. Ms. Michalski took on the job and developed her first curriculum.
Following graduation from Dartmouth, Ms. Michalski took an internship at the Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts. She chose to complete her master’s degree after this internship. She was then invited back to the Walnut Hill School for a yearlong, full-time position teaching several French classes.
She has since come to Williston, where she has applied her excellent language and teaching skills to each of the classes she has taught here.
The outstanding factor that makes Michalski an excellent teacher is the way she runs her classes. Unusual is the class where students are asked to remain in their seats and silently copy down notes from the board. Instead, students are asked to climb on top of their desks to belt out loud verses of Celine Dion to review interrogative pronouns. The volume of their singing is considered in class participation grades.
Students are frequently asked to write and perform skits with their classmates, which are often facetious in nature. Games such as “Bananagrams” and card matching are featured in Ms. Michalski’s classes. Whiteboard markers have been thrown across the room in the past, and the imperative tense has been discussed by commanding students to dance the tango.
Do not be mistaken — there is no monkey business in Ms. Michalski’s classes. Her students take their work seriously and dedicate themselves to improving. Ms. Michalski is able to masterfully combine engaging and vigorous activities with stimulating classwork and homework. Students constantly strive to meet expectations and are consistently challenged.
Her class management abilities are stunningly effective. Some students continue to wonder how she can coordinate her classes with such skill and poise. How does she accomplish this? “Rare is the class that turns to trying to fool around and play,” Ms. Michalski answers humbly.
Aside from class management, Ms. Michalski’s classes are a place where error is welcomed.
“[Ms. Michalski’s] enthusiasm and creativity as a teacher not only bring out the best in each one of her students, but come together to create a safe environment for her students to make mistakes and learn from them,” one student explains.
Everything is a learning opportunity in Ms. Michalski’s classes. Digressions from topics are treated as chances to learn new vocabulary and phrases. Mistakes on quizzes or tests are learned from seamlessly integrating them into class discussions.
Daily activities in French III Honors include conversation cards, where current course material can be reviewed orally, visually, and aurally. Her methods of teaching are impressive and she carefully prepares each class to best cater to her students. She finds inspiration for her classes all around her.
Even during an interview, Ms. Michalski recalls a baseball-themed game her sister used to play with her students in a math class. “That’s a great game.” She pauses thoughtfully before continuing, “I’m writing that down. We’re playing baseball in class.”