Interview with new language arts teacher Shana Schmidt
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Schmidt: “Well, I’m a mother of two, and my daughter is Kaydra, and she’s 17, and she’s a senior at Wamego High School, and my son is 14, and he is also a freshman at Wamego High School. And, then, my husband, Chris Schmidt, was born and raised in this area, so he’s lived here all of his life.”
Is there anyone or anything that inspired you to become an English teacher?
Schmidt: “Yes. That would be my drama teacher, Charlotte Jackson. I still keep in touch with her today, and she was just an amazing educator, but she also just was kind of like a second mom, right? She took that responsibility seriously and just was a wonderful woman.”
What are your favorite aspects of English – like reading or grammar?
Schmidt: “Well, I love reading, obviously, but I also kind of like the origins of where words come from, and like, the linguistic aspect of things. I took an Old English class as one of my grad [graduate] classes, and I think anybody who teaches the English language should take an Old English class, because that’s where language derived from, so I learned probably more about the English language, and actually grammar and rules, by studying where we started, right? And, then, it looked at where we are today in modern language. Old English, at the time, I did not think that would be a worthy class of me taking – it’s a dead language, but now looking back, it taught me a whole lot about why we do the things we do in the English language. And, just that part, the linguistics part of things. And, reading as well. And, writing. I guess all of it.”
When did you find out about the job at Rock Creek and when did you find out you got the job?
Schmidt: “Ah. I was in the middle of taking finals in grad school, and Bridgette Rankin, who’s the eighth grade English teacher, I had been her student teacher for a semester, and she had always said, ‘Hey, if something ever opens up in the high school, I could move, and you could teach eighth grade here.’ So, she had called me, and I had not seen that she called me because I was up late working on a paper, and so I texted her the next morning and said, ‘Hey, is everything okay?’ And, she had told me about the job, and I said, ‘Okay, but I’m in the middle of grad school.’ And she’s like, ‘Well, I would still apply,’ and I did think it would be a good experience, and I loved this school. I had subbed at Manhattan, I had subbed at Wamego, because they kind of tell you to do that, to sub everywhere, and kind of interview the schools. And, I really felt at home at Rock Creek. I really thought that the staff was very helpful and accommodating, and I thought the students were respectful and willing to learn. So, it was definitely an environment I was drawn to, so I did go ahead and apply that evening online, and I was already going to sub here on that Monday, and I interviewed that following Wednesday morning. [Principal] Mr. [Eric] Koppes called Wednesday night, and I accepted the job. So, it was kind of a whirlwind right at the end of the semester, and then I had the summer to kind of come up here and work on things, but [I’m] very grateful for the opportunity to teach here, this amazing school.”
What attracted you to the Rock Creek School District?
Schmidt: “Lots of things. Because I student taught here, I was familiar with a lot of the policies and just the way the school was designed to run, right? But, I would definitely say it was the people. It was the teachers, and the front office staff, who were just so welcoming. When you go to sub at a school, they’re understaffed and stressed as it is, and you can tell by that school on how they treat you when you come in, and [English teacher] Ms. [Cherrie] Lindsey, I first met her when I was subbing, and she was like, ‘Hey, if you need anything, I’m right next door, come over,’ you know? Just so welcoming. And, the students, too. The students have been very welcoming and respectful, and I think that it’s the people that make Rock Creek so great. You know, the school is good, and the things that are in place, the policies and procedures are all good too, but it’s the people that make it amazing, I think.”
So, I’ve heard about your writing center idea you want to bring to Rock Creek. Can you explain what that is?
Schmidt: “Yeah, so while I did my undergrad [undergraduate] at K-State, and part of my grad school, because I’m still working on that, I always worked in the writing center at Kansas State University. And, what that is, is it’s just a set aside space, and they also have, like, satellite locations, so I used it when I was an undergrad at Hale [Library]. It was just a table set-up where there were other people that could look over my writing and give me feedback and work with me and collaborate with me on ways to make my paper better. So, before I even became a part of it, I used it as a student, and it was extremely valuable. Then, I got to take an English 500 class and learn how to tutor other students about writing, and I did that in between my class schedule and work. I would be on campus, so I could go tutor for a couple hours, and I also got paid to do that. And, I’m also presenting at a couple of conferences, like one tomorrow [Nov. 3], and I did one last month about writing centers, so it’s just a center where you can go, students can go, and be tutored by other students. Some are undergrads, some are grad students, and just get feedback on their papers. I think that writing is such an important life skill in general, and it’s really complicated and messy for people. Writing itself can be a struggle for some people, and even good writers need readers. I mean, that’s kind of what you do, is read and give feedback as you would as a reader. I really am excited. I’m starting an internship next semester, and part of that internship is to develop a writing center. Part of that project for my internship is to develop a writing center here at Rock Creek. And, I’m looking at ways to try and make that happen, where the students get some training on how to do it, and then are able to work with each other and give each other feedback, or writing for any class, not for just English class, like, across the curriculum. So, if there’s a paper they have due, or scholarship applications, or personal statements for college, things like that, we can help them with those resumes, we can help them with any kind of writing that they do, and it’s the students giving each other feedback, so I think that’s what’s really great, is they can really learn from each other.”
So you used to teach at K-State? What’s one thing that you miss about K-State?
Schmidt: “Oh, gosh. I still go to K-State on Tuesday and Thursday evenings because I have class, and I do miss the writing center, because that becomes a family so to speak, you know? And, I know that’s kind of cliché, because K-State, you’re always part of their family, right? But, it really is true. But, I think most of all, I miss walking on campus, and there’s always something funny, or interesting, or strange that’s going on. And, you just kind of keep walking to your class and kind of shake your head and say, ‘I would only see this on K-State campus,’ you know? The last unusual thing I saw was they had this big, huge pillow fight in the middle of all these buildings, and they were trying to go for a world record for largest pillow fight. Just odd things like that, and the students are just so involved. So, things like that, the programs they have at K-State, are amazing. I hope to still try to take advantage of as much of that as I can and also have my students try to take advantage of any programs or partnerships that I can forge there because, I’m kind of biased, but it is a really great university, and they are willing to help in certain ways, so hopefully we can take advantage of that. We’re just down the road.”
So you decided to go back to college – what made you decide to go back?
Schmidt: “I had always wanted to be a teacher, and life just kind of happened, and I was actually a troop leader for my daughter’s Girl Scouts troop when she was younger, and I had taught Girl Scouts all day at a camp, Camp Daisy, and my daughter and my son were with me helping me. I taught ‘Leave No Trace,’ which is a way for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to enjoy the environment without leaving a footprint, or a trace. I had taught that all day, and there was the Lorax book, so we kind of did a little skit with the Lorax book, and I read the Lorax book to everyone, and then we kind of talked about the implications of that. And, we were dead tired, we had played these games all day long were involving environment, and the rules of engaging with the environment in a positive way. And, my daughter was asleep in the back of the car, and my son was still awake, and he was pretty young, and he had been helping us all day, and he said, ‘Mom, you know what? You sure are a fun teacher. I wish you were my teacher.’ And, I thought, ‘Huh, you know, that’s what I wanted to do before I met your dad and had kids,’ and he was probably nine or 10, and he said, ‘Well, I think you should still do that.’ And, then he fell asleep. I spent the rest of the time at home in the car thinking, ‘You know, maybe I should do that. Maybe that’s something I should do now that my kids are older.’ So, I did make the decision to go back to school later in life, and I do not regret it at all. I just wish I probably would have done it sooner, but I might not be the same kind of teacher that I would’ve been if I would’ve done it right out of college. I don’t know. It all happens that way for a reason.”
I heard you are taking a Harry Potter-based literature class. What is that about?
Schmidt: “Well, it’s a really intense class. There’s over 23 books on our reading list, including the Harry Potter series, and then, of course, she [the professor] added the Cursed Child, the most recent one. What I’ve found the most surprising is that the school stories are kind of a tradition in British literature, and I didn’t realize that. So, there’s all these previous books, like the Tom Brown School Days, and all these different books, so that was actually kind of like a genre before Harry Potter came. And, then we’ve kind of just learned what influences J.K. Rowling had, because she was a huge fan of Jane Austen, and she also had read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, which actually Ms. Lindsey, I was super excited to see she, teaches the twelfth grade, and that I’ve had the opportunity to help teach them that. So, we’ve kind of looked at all the elements that she uses in her writing, and all of the influences that she’s had, and it’s just been an amazing course. I had never read Harry Potter before; my son had, and so he was really excited I was taking the class, but I’m like a super fan now, and she is an amazing writer. She really is, and I have probably learned to appreciate children’s literature. I mean, I always was a fan of YA [young adult literature], but I think I’ve learned to appreciate it on a completely different level, and I could probably defend now why that is actually good literature, while before, I think my views of children’s literature were like, ‘Oh, that’s a great story for kids,’ but it’s truly good literature, and I could probably defend that now better now, after taking this class. And, just the whole fandom. I’ve learned about that, and that’s kind of amazing.”
What degree are you pursuing and how are you going to use your degree to further your career?
Schmidt: “The degree that I’m taking at K-State for my Master’s is English Composition and Rhetoric. So, my final project will be on students’ rights to their own language, which was a resolution that was written in the ‘70s that talks about students being able, that we should affirm students’ rights to their native language or dialect. And, again, going back to my linguistic kind of interest, that to me is really important – students having their own voice to be heard in their writing or just in general in their school. So, I’m really passionate about that. I’ve worked with a lot of international students while at the writing center, and I just feel it’s really important for the student’s authentic voice to be in their writing, and that’s kind of difficult because there’s certain things we look for in writing, good or bad, right? But, I do think it’s important to make sure that the students are heard, and so that’s why students’ rights to their own language is kind of what my final project will be over. I’ll use all of this information, I think, to be a better teacher, just in general. I’ll be more aware of issues dealing with the writing, composition and rhetoric of that. I just think, overall, it’ll make me a better teacher, the more I know. And, I like learning, so I’m just probably going to be a lifelong learner, because I enjoy it. It also kind of helps because I’m not asking my students to do more than I’m doing. Like, I’m still writing papers, still going to class and learning and expanding my knowledge base. That’s what I’m asking students to do every day, but I continue to do that as well.”
Interview by staff member Marshall Fike
Photo courtesy of Interstate Studios