There is more spirit and love here than I have seen at any other school…

As I was graduating college, I was told that I would be lucky to find a full-time teaching position because of the sheer volume of new teachers entering the field. That memory hung over my head day in and day out as I was filling out applications. It was a hard time for me. I had several interviews, but no school district seemed to want a fresh out of college 23 year old without a year of teaching under their belt. It didn’t make sense to me that I was expected to be as qualified as a teacher who already had 1-2 years of experience. How was I supposed to grow as an educator when all I was able to do was move from classroom to classroom substituting? I was starting to lose hope. Summer was coming to a close and I was already looking online for non-teaching jobs that I could apply for with my degree.

Two weeks before the end of summer, a friend put in contact with Maddie Tebon. She was kind enough to suggest me to the interview staff, and to this day I am very grateful for that. From the minute I walked in for my interview, I could tell this school had a genuine staff. I was confident, and walked away telling myself that I knocked that interview out of the park. I received a call the next day with the job offer.

It is now the 4th quarter of the school year, and even now it is hard for me to put into words how much I love this school, the staff, and the students. There is more spirit and love here than I have seen at any other school. It almost feels unreal, but that’s what the idea of family is all about. If I’m having a rough day, there is always a friend to talk to and pull me back in the game. If I’m having an awesome day, there is always a place to share those successes. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I don’t want to be. This family is too precious and I thank each and every staff member for being what makes this environment so great.

-Ryan Thermen

As a teacher, I believe you must never stop being a student at heart…

As a teacher, we are asked to reflect on our practice. For most of us, this is something we do all day long after each lesson and each class. It is because of this practice that I would like to start my #chooseNMSA at the beginning of the second year of my teaching journey. My decision to begin at the start of my second year –or better yet, my decision to come back for another year of teaching at NMSA—marks the point in time when I knew that I was truly home and was living the dream that most adults will never realize: I have a job doing what I truly love to do.

After my first year, I was exhausted; I did not anticipate the late or sleepless nights, all of the work I would have to do outside of school, or how emotionally draining the teaching profession would be. Yet on the last day of school as my first set students were walking out of my classroom, all the love I felt for those kids, my job, and this school was truly apparent to me. Working at NMSA allowed me to learn so much about teaching and also allowed me to gain a true vision of my personal and professional goals. It is for this reason that I cannot see myself teaching anywhere else—this is why I #chooseNMSA.

As a teacher, I believe you must never stop being a student at heart. You have to constantly be seeking out how to grow and change in order to keep up with everything evolving around you. You must know your students inside and out; this means knowing how they tick, what makes them flourish, what is going on with friends at school, and what is happening at home, because it all effects them and how they learn (and we know that in middle school some of these things change daily!). You have to learn how to accommodate for students, how to take a bad worksheet and make it an interactive activity everyone can get into, and how to relate abstract concepts to basketball or shopping to make it relevant to them. I had to learn that when students got upset with me, it wasn’t necessarily me they were mad at and that these kids need love as much as they need math. I also learned that even as a first year teacher, who plastered a smile on my face most mornings, poured myself an extra cup of coffee, that the students appreciated that I came to school every day to teach them. I learned all of this with the support of the people around me because we were in it together. That’s why I #chooseNMSA.

Only at NMSA, have I felt that each and every one of us has a vested interest in these students. Everyone from Joyce and her team, to our wonderful admin support staff, to our content coaches, APs, Vicki, and Dr. Pollack and Dr. Martindale. Because we all want so much for our students, I feel that the district has reached beyond them and invested in us. As teachers, we are encouraged to learn about everything and anything we feel is pertinent to our content and profession. We are pushed to think outside of the box. We are encouraged to dream big and reach higher. Our leaders, especially Vicki, see that to be the best teachers we can be, we must focus on ourselves as well so that we can be the best for our students. Without her vision and passion we wouldn’t be pushed to learn from teachers all across the country, to add a little genius to every class, and to be runners on her bus (which my Fitbit is thoroughly enjoying!). That’s why I #chooseNMSA.

Finally, at NMSA, I have learned so much about myself.  I have learned that there are people who will support me in my weakest most vulnerable moments. I have learned that our students are our biggest cheerleaders and appreciate us even if they never say anything. I have learned that a lesson can go horribly wrong and completely off plan; however, it was mostly in my head. I have learned that my love of data and excel is real and one of my favorite parts of my job.  I have learned that I need to spend less time trying to be “perfect” and that I need to be me. I learned that everyone else in the building has bad days too, even if I thought it was just me. I learned that some days you have to reach down deep inside and pull something out you didn’t think you could (ask Lang about Jesus Nelson- it was the story that made me understand this). I have learned how to be stronger than I ever thought I could. I have learned that unless you are a teacher or close to one, no one truly knows or understands what we do. I know that I am crazy to love working with middle schoolers in the most unsure time of their lives.  I have learned that at the heart of teaching is love.  That’s why I #chooseNMSA.

Nowhere else, not another job, not another profession, and not another school, would I have learned all of this- especially in one year. Nowhere else would I be supported as a whole person, not just a teacher or employee. Nowhere else would I feel that I have a family when I walk into the building, where we are all here for each other and the students who walk through our doors.  I can truly say that even after a long, draining day, I wake up the next morning knowing that I am going to walk back into my classroom and do it all over again because I love it here, and I couldn’t see myself growing with any other family.

I #choose NMSA.

-Stephanie Cullotta

…I am thrilled that I chose NMSA

I began my teaching career at North Chicago Community High School in the fall of 2007 during my student teaching semester. When I was offered a job there the following semester, I took it. Teaching at NCCHS the following four years was difficult and stressful work, but I had some incredible team members, an awesome mentor and collaborator, and amazing students who honed my skills and never let me lose sight of why I went into teaching in the first place.

At the close of the 2011-2012 school year, I chose to leave the classroom for the SIG position and I gained valuable experience through it. However, because I had given up my seniority and call back rights when I left the classroom, when the SIG ended after the 2013-2014 school year I did not have a position to return to at NCCHS.

I accepted a position at Antioch Upper Grade School as a Guided Reading and Communications Teacher for 2014-2015. It was the perfect crash course in middle school, as I was able to teach in multiple capacities and at each grade level. Although it was a positive and pleasant experience, I missed NCCHS greatly, confirming for me that North Chicago is my teaching heart’s home.

At the end of the 2014-2015 year, I was assured that although I had been RIFed I would have a position at AUGs for the following school year. However, with the backdrop of my past experience, I thought it best to explore my options. This exploration brought me back to North Chicago, this time to NMSA. Val Pientka and Alyssa McDonald, my predecessor, former colleague, and friend, had told me throughout the school year how much they loved working at NMSA. My husband, who had also joined the North Chicago family during the previous year, had also spoken very highly of the impressive work at NMSA.

When the choice between returning to the confirmed position at AUGS or returning to North Chicago as the ELA coach at NMSA was presented, the decision was a matter of heart and the words of NMSA staff. Alyssa and Val were very encouraging and clearly proud of NMSA, but it was the thoughts of my husband that confirmed my choice. He explained that he saw this as the perfect opportunity for me to work under the leadership of a very strong and intelligent female principal through whom I could learn much. After a long yet very fast walking talk with Principal King, I knew that it was time to follow my heart home to North Chicago. I know my year visit to AUGS was the providentially planned essential piece previously missing in my preparation for this position. As I am again in a SIG position, I may not be able to stay for long, but I am thrilled that I chose NMSA. If given the opportunity, I would #choosenmsa again.

Dedicated to the memory of Debbie Stefanik, mentor, collaborator, friend, and D187 teacher for 20 years. Thank you for believing, pushing, and challenging me. You are deeply missed.

-Amy Billings

I love coming to work everyday and being apart of the transformation that is going on at NMSA and within the community

Once I graduated college, I thought finding a teaching job would be relatively easy. Be a paraprofessional for one year and then get a full time teaching job. Four years later, I was working in my second school district as a paraprofessional and going back to school twice to add more endorsements to make myself more noticeable and be able to teach more content areas. There were times throughout the four years when I thought about giving up on my dream of being a teacher.  This crossed my mind even more over the last two years when I was driving to and from interviews, some two hours from my house, and getting rejection email after rejection email. I told myself after the 2014/2015 school year that I had one more school year (2015/2016) to look for a teaching job, then I was going to look for a new career path. I was fortunate to interview for two separate jobs here at NMSA. The first one did not go as planned, but I got a second chance to show who I was as a teacher and how valuable I would be to the NMSA staff. My dream came true when Ben called me in July and told me NMSA wanted me to be the 7th Grade ESL ELA/SS teacher. Words could not explain how excited I was to achieve my dream of being a teacher and starting a new chapter in my life. With NMSA being the third school I have worked in in my short career, I can honestly say it is the BEST school! I love coming to work everyday and being apart of the transformation that is going on at NMSA and within the community. NMSA truly is a family! When I tell people I work in North Chicago, I get the confused look of why, but these people only know North Chicago by its name and old reputation and not by what is going on everyday to make a difference in the students’ lives. #NMSAPride, #NMSAsuperheros, #NMSALove, #NMSAfamily

-Brad Nedza

I am so happy to be a part of the #nmsafamily

After college, I had little success finding a full-time teaching position. I was able to secure a few substitute positions but I wasn’t fulfilling my dream. I filled out application after application with little success. I would go to interviews and be told how great I was, only I was lacking experience, but how was I supposed to gain experience unless somebody offered me the chance? Janelle Buttera mentioned on Facebook that NMSA was hiring. I had heard rumors about the North Chicago community so I was hesitant and decided I would wait. Kelly O’Connor then also mentioned on Facebook how she was just hired at NMSA and how wonderful it already was compared to her previous school she worked at. Two people from my college program both would be working at NMSA so I figured I would give it a shot, it couldn’t be all that bad, and I would already know people! I applied and on a Monday morning was asked if I could come in for an interview later that day. A few minutes after the interview, I was offered the job! Everything was happening way too quickly, but of course I accepted, my dreams were coming true! Almost immediately I knew I was part of a family. Almost all of the 7th grade staff was new so we were all there for each other; I never had a doubt that I made a wrong choice when I accepted the position, and realize now all the bad things I had heard about North Chicago were simply rumors.

It is now the beginning of the last quarter of my first year teaching and I am so happy to be a part of the #nmsafamily. We have made so many great changes this year and I have seen the students grow so much.  Joel Pollack said the other day at the high school, “we have outstanding students who deserve the very best” and I could not agree more! I tell my family stories about how proud I am of my students like they are my own children. NMSA is where I was meant to be.

-Kendell Blake

The people I work with, the community and supporters; their dedication and motivation is humbling

Once I finished school, I knew it would be hard to get a job and figured I would be a server and subbing for another year or so. I applied everywhere, and for any job I was remotely qualified for. I went on a few interviews, but nothing really fit.

Then I heard from North Chicago. On the day of my interview, my sitter canceled. So I brought my daughter to the interview. At this point, I was thinking this interview could only be chalked up to practice for me, because there was no way I was getting hired. Much to my surprise I got hired.  I was scared to death! People kept telling me “You don’t want to start off in North Chicago.” I heard “You must have drawn the short end of the stick,” or “Do only one year there then go to a “better” district.” None of these thoughts ever crossed my mind. I was just scared because I was a new teacher, leaving a job I had for 12 years, where I had co-workers who were family not because of where I was going!

Since that first year, there’s not been a time where I’ve felt unsupported or that I do not have a “family” here. The people I work with, the community and supporters; their dedication and motivation is humbling. Then there are the students. I have such a close connection with them, I feel as if they are my own. Daily I see their faces, I see their desire to learn, and mostly I see change in them.  Change in the right direction for themselves, their families, and their community. I know what we are doing, where I see my students going, keeps me coming back every day.  With my “short end of the stick” in hand… I’m showing the outside world what d187 is really about, family!

-Janelle Buttera

This environment has allowed me to continue developing a vision of #equityliteracy

I am currently a masters student in Diversity and Equity in Education through University of Illinois in Champaign and I am teaching in North Chicago, where the free and reduced lunch is at 91%. Since my first placement in college, I began to develop a passion for understanding education in poverty and joining the fight for equity. When I saw the current inequity in North Chicago at my new teacher orientation last school year, district 187’s motto “on the move towards excellence,” and the heartfelt sincerety in the superintendent’s voice as he pointed to a graph comparing % free and reduced lunch to performance and said “we are working to be the outlier,” I thought this could very easily be the right place for me. I had no idea how loving my #nmsafamily would be or how much love our leader, @vicking02 would bring to our school. I have met some of my favorite people, students and educators, throughout this incredible 2-year journey. This environment has allowed me to continue developing a vision of #equityliteracy. Now I can say with undying confidence that I would #choosenmsa one thousand times over.

-Mallory Nasatir

I love my #NMSAfamily

My first year of teaching didn’t really go as planned. I had doubts about myself in the profession I always knew I wanted to do. I allowed the mind games to get to me, to the point that there were nights I couldn’t go to sleep before 3 am. Even with support from my family, I was still having an internal struggle.

But why did I come back? I had the opportunity for a second chance, a second time to prove to myself that I am a capable teacher and there’s a purpose for me. When I came back, I thought I would see several familiar faces. However, that wasn’t the case. There were new enthusiastic and motivated teachers. Our jobs aren’t easy, the students can be difficult and the work can be overwhelming. I wouldn’t trade what began as colleagues, turned friends, and became family for another experience or staff. It makes it easier to come to work because of the people. My friends still question me if I am happier than last year, and with certainty I tell them yes, I love my #NMSAfamily. This is the place I can continue to teach and continue to learn, this is why I #CHOOSENMSA.

-Randee Gertz

NMSA… A Family and a Warm, Positive Community

Prior to working at NMSA, I was a teaching assistant for two years at the middle school level in a different district. So to be honest when I applied to Neal Math and Science Academy it was because I was searching for a full time teaching position. When I was granted my opportunity as a seventh grade special education teacher at Neal Math and Science Academy I had a mixture of emotions. Anxious as a new teacher, excited for the adventure, and happy to be getting my own classroom!

Now the question is why do I choose to work here? It is simple. We have built a family and a warm, positive community. It is evident that our school district has its ups and downs but it makes it easier when there are people you work with that care about you as a person and a professional. When working with a staff where the energy is high, and the love is so real it makes work AMAZING!!  I have also found remarkable students that crave knowledge; they want to read, write, research, show, explore and dream.

When people ask me why do I teach at NMSA in North Chicago I have an easy answer to a big question. When you are surrounded by family and a community that shows love for learning and one another why be anywhere else?!

-Dan Faust

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