August 13, 2019
Cara Lougheed is Michigan’s Teacher of the Year for 2019-20, an award Meemic is proud to partner with the Michigan Department of Education to sponsor. Cara has been teaching high school English and history for 21 years in the Rochester Community School District.
We talked with Cara about her teaching experience. Come back for her monthly blog posts chronicling her year.
What is your teaching experience?
I have been teaching high school English and history for 21 years in the Rochester Community School District.
What is your mission as Michigan Teacher of the Year?
To elevate the work of educators all over this state, and to encourage them to find their “teacher voices” to advocate what is best for all kids. I want to remind teachers at all levels, locations and points in their careers that what they do matters — maybe more than anything else — and that every day, kids are relying on us to teach, protect, challenge and inspire them.
What is the biggest change in your classroom from when you first started teaching?
The most obvious change is the availability of technology. So many things I used to have to do by hand are so much easier now, and so much information is at our fingertips, which is really helpful in the classroom.
On the flip side of that, the evaluation process has become much more cumbersome and time-consuming. I fully agree with the need for evaluation in all professions, but the change is in how long the process takes to complete. It worries me because that is time we could be spending with kids, assessing work or preparing plans.
The thing that hasn’t really changed that much is the students. Despite social media, phones and busy lives, kids still just want to connect with their peers and their teachers — and that connection has consistently been the most important factor in what I do.
What are the most important things that your students have taught you?
My students keep me humble. They remind me of the importance of humor in the classroom, and they have shown me that teenage problems are still problems. I learned long ago to never minimize what students are going through, even if from an adult perspective it seems minor. They have shown me that while they value being treated as young adults, they also need second (and third, and fourth…) chances to recover from mistakes. They have taught me to be more human and more empathetic.
What is your favorite story/event from teaching?
Oh, gosh. This is a hard question to narrow down. One of my favorites was when my fiancé (now husband, who also teaches with me) proposed on a school night so I could share the news with my students the next morning. They were overjoyed. They brought in wedding planning magazines the next week, helped plan an impromptu bridal shower, and a small group even came to our ceremony. I still keep in touch with so many of these kids.
I also love the fun we have at my school. Every year, the teachers participate in the Homecoming lip sync competition, and the kids go wild. One year we did a flash mob for the seniors before they left, and last year, a friend of mine organized a way for every student at the school to get a personal valentine from a staff member (idea originally from the fabulous Oxford High School staff). This year, one of my classes made cupcakes with rhetorical device flags for my birthday. These are the types of things that make teenagers the absolute best.
Who would play you in the Oscar-bait inspirational movie about your class and what would the movie be called?
I had no idea how to answer this, so I polled some of my friends on Facebook, and they did not disappoint:
- Didn’t they already make that movie? (with a picture of the Wonder Woman movie poster attached — I am a BIG, lifelong fan)
- Reese Witherspoon in “Flair Pens & Chocolate”
- Brie Larson in “Wonder Teacher”
- Shouldn’t Troy’s own Sutton Foster play you? (Sutton went to my high school.)
In all seriousness, any movie made about me and my classroom is more likely to be a comedy with serious moments than an all-out drama — teaching is funny!
Do you have any words of advice for teachers (rookies or veterans)?
I have written words of advice over the years, but they mostly boil down to this:
New & young teachers:
Keep going. Ask for help, leave your classroom and don’t spend every single second of your day with kids if you can help it. We love them, and they are the focus, but they will leave. The adults are your strength, and will help you get through your days if you let them.
Reach out to the younger teachers — they need you. Take student teachers or at least encourage college students to observe you. Share your expertise, and be kind. Show them the easier ways to do things and ask them to help you with new tech if you need it. The middle and close to retirement years can be rough, and being a mentor can revive you.