Q&A with Bobbi Jo Kenyon

Q: Why did you choose your career path?
A: I have always wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl.  My father was a science teacher at Cadillac High School for 37 years before retiring.  During this time, I had a chance to see all the hard work and all the rewards of teaching.  I knew this is what I wanted to do!  I helped my dad whenever I could and played school with my siblings and any kids in the neighborhood whenever I babysat.  Because of my high GPA in high school, I was enticed to go into medicine or engineering, however my heart was always for teaching – and I couldn’t have chosen a better career!

Q: Describe what you do on a day-to-day basis.
ASchool starts by 7:25 am (yes, that is early!) and I teach 9th grade biology from 1st through 5th hours.  I deliver well thought out lessons each day tailored specifically for my students to stimulate learning, incorporate different learning styles, and focus on the content learning standards.  I always encourage them to actively participate in their learning through dialogue, discovery, risk taking, and problem solving.  I build critical thinking skills into my lessons by having students predict, justify, question, create, infer, and elaborate.   Above all else, I want to make learning interesting and fun!

Current research in science, exciting debates, using Internet sites, group activities and hands-on assignments, Jeopardy reviews, and homemade board games – these activities all help me stimulate learning and engage my students.   6th hour is my prep hour (planning period), however I have a large group of kids come in everyday with passes to get tutored and catch up on work during this time.  I have been so proud of their commitment to take learning in their own hands!  After school more students come in, and I also have quite a few meetings each week for the various committees I serve on.  Around 4:30 pm, after gathering all the work to grade, finishing up paperwork, and working on some lesson planning, I head home.

At home, I usually average another 4 hours of work and lesson planning.  It is pretty typical for me to put in around 70 hours a week on my job (If teachers could only get paid for all our extra time, my house would be paid off!).  I don’t think people realize how much out of school time we put into our job, and I don’t think there are a lot of other professional careers out there where people donate their time so freely.  In addition, we are not “just teachers”, but we are parents, counselors, confidants,  role models, and big brothers or sisters to our students.  We teach not only our content, but manners, morals, people skills, and life lessons.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A:  What free time?  Just kidding!  It is not all work, I do love to read, take walks, go to the lakeshore, take road trips, watch movies, spend time with my significant other, Lance,  my awesome niece and nephew, and hang out with family and friends.  One of my favorite hobbies is photography. I absolutely love being out with my camera!  It has always appealed to me and allows me to be creative both during the photographing and in post-processing. I grew up loving nature, and I strive to capture the spirit of the subjects that I photograph and create images that show beauty is everywhere around us.  There is something amazing in the ability of a photograph to capture a timeless moment, and how that one unique image can evoke so many different emotions in each person it touches along the way.

Q:  What are some of your accomplishments?
A:  At the end of May,  I was surprised in an assembly at school where I was  named 2012-2013  Michigan Teacher of the Year.  I knew I was a finalist, but with so many other wonderful teachers out there, I didn’t expect to be chosen.   This is by far my proudest moment,  and I am beyond words to explain how honored I am!

I also consider it a proud accomplishment to teach sixteen years in the inner city.  I am dedicated to serving this population of students and its challenges.  Over the years, I have witnessed a countless number of teachers come and go.  When asked why I stay in a school that is so challenging when I could have it “much easier” somewhere else, my answer stays the same:  I feel that I have made a significant impact here;  these kids deserve great teachers!   On a number of occasions I have been offered a job in another school where fellow teachers have moved and enticed me with the promise of  “an easier environment” to work in.  To me, it is not about easy;  it is about impact, about need, about raising the education of children who may not see the options that lay before them.  It is about believing in kids others may not believe in and not giving up on kids that others have written off.

Another accomplishment that I have been excited about is the adoption of a class I introduced in my district several years ago.  I saw a need for the students at my school to make some real connections to science, so I developed a course outline for a forensic science class and was approved to pilot it.  I spent my entire summer learning and developing lessons for this class (there was no high school forensic book at the time).  I went from teaching one class of 20 students that first year, to the next year having several full classes with kids waiting to sign up.  How exciting!  It was a success and students saw some real world connections that got them really interested in science.  My district adopted this class in other high schools, and it is now a very popular course.   I have had many students who chose forensics, pathology, and criminal justice as a career because of this class.  Most of them told me that science was never a subject they thought about pursuing before this.

I feel most accomplished, however, when I receive positive feedback from my students;  when they tell me that they like science for the first time now, they have learned so much this year, they love coming to my class, and that I am their favorite teacher.  Even the occasional “ILY” on the board (which I now know means “I love ya” in text!).  I can’t help but feel I have accomplished something truly wonderful when I  have former students come visit, call or write me emails and tell me that I made an impact in their lives – all of this is the best recognition I could ask for!

Q:  What moment in your career are you most proud of?
A:  Receiving Michigan Teacher of the Year was an amazing moment, and I felt not only pride for myself, but for my school, district, city and all the teachers that I know work hard every day for our kids in Michigan.

My career is also full of proud moments each day!  I believe that every student is capable of learning and deserves the best possible education regardless of what school they attend, their background or ethnicity.  My job as their teacher is to unlock the potential within every child, hold them accountable, inspire, encourage and show them what they are capable of when they apply themselves.  Whenever I succeed in doing this, I am proud of both myself and them!

My greatest reward as a teacher is knowing that I make a positive impact on a young person’s life.  My students know that I love my job and that I am there for them. There is no better feeling than when a student tells you they appreciate you!   A student in his 2nd year at Texas University called me to tell me I influenced him to become a chiropractor.  Another student in the Army proudly told me during a visit that he is a medic on the front lines saving lives because of my class.  Countless other letters and visits through the years tell me of similar situations.  I recently received a moving email from a student who made it into med school.  She was asked in a class, “Why do you want to be a doctor?”  and she told me, “I can trace my inspiration back to your anatomy class.  It was one of the first classes where I felt inspired by a teacher’s passion…and that inspiration means the world to me.”  I can think of no greater reward in life than knowing that my influence is reaching far beyond my classroom.  THIS is why I am a teacher!

Q:  Advice for people who are trying to find their calling?
A: Follow your heart, choose what you have a passion for and what is true for you – you need to wake up and be able to say,  “This really doesn’t feel like a job, it is just something I love to do!”   (This doesn’t mean it isn’t hard work or you don’t have those days, just that you find a lot of joy from your career).

Q:  What motivates you?
A:  I have always been one to motive myself everyday to do the best I can.  I think it was the sign my mother had up in our house growing up, “anything worth doing is worth doing well”.  I live by that and put my heart into what I do.  I am  always pushing myself to do better – how can I reach more students or engage them in new ways, what instructional strategies should I use to help my students, or how can I get them more excited about science?  I have an endless passion for what I do and that passion always keeps me motivated.

I am also motivated by my students; they are the ones who make me want to be the best teacher I can.  I see the potential in each student and want so much for them to succeed in life!  I want them to see the doors that are open to them and to see the value of education in their life.  Many of my students are the first generation in their family to go to college and that makes me so proud and motivated to continue helping them know they too can accomplish great things!

Q:  Who/what has inspired/influenced you to be successful?
A:  As I shared earlier, my father played a big role in inspiring me.  Hearing kids say while I was growing up, “I loved your dad!” or  “I learned so much in his class!” and seeing former students come up to him and tell him how he influenced them into a certain career (as my dad’s face became full of pride) made me want to be the one hearing this and inspiring students someday.

Q:  What is your vision for the future of your career?
A:  As I step into role of the 2012-2013 Michigan Teacher of the Year, I am excited to see what road this brings me down.  I love teaching and want to continue that, and I also want to work with others to strengthen the education of our children which is essential for our city, state, and country to thrive.