When you think of English teachers and all they demand of their students, what comes to mind may be lengthy composition papers, boring book reports, and figuring out how to differentiate between words like “lay” and “lie.” While these may represent a portion of what comprises a typical English class, there is one James Madison High School (JMHS) teacher who is not your typical English instructor as she strives to make the subject exciting and relevant to her online students.
Maybe it’s because English teacher Jennifer Michel is a huge fan of fantasy and science fiction that she inspires excitement in JMHS students. She admires how her favorite authors can create fantastic stories that take place in entirely new universes, and with relatable characters. Terry Goodkind is one of her favorites. He wrote the epic fantasy series The Sword of Truth. Another favorite is Orson Scott Card, who wrote the Ender’s Game series. Just like these authors do for their readers, Michel aims to make the subject of English come alive for her students.
Jennifer also adores the Lord of the Rings Trilogy – the books and the films. She even listens to the movie score while grading students’ assignments.
Sharing her enjoyment of literature with her students gives Jennifer great pleasure, and her unique teaching approach assures that students learn about subjects such as Shakespeare’s plays in a way that is positive and engaging. She says, “One of my favorite courses to teach has been dramatic literature, and my favorite unit to teach is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Students often come into the unit unable to understand what is going on, and by the end of the unit, they not only understand the language, but they are able to rewrite Act 5, Scene 3 in modern language and perform it. For instance, students have rewritten the balcony scene between Romeo and Juliet as a text conversation. I enjoy watching my students become more engaged with the play as it progresses.”
Jennifer, who majored in both English education and history and minored in women's studies, has taught in the classroom and online since graduating from Indiana State University. One of her most touching teaching moments occurred when a student realized that Jennifer genuinely cared about the student’s success. “Once I was able to make that personal connection with the student, it was easier to provide academic assistance.”
Overall, Jennifer prefers the flexibility and independence of online learning. She loves interacting with students and relishes the responses students have to the readings included as part of the JMHS English curriculum. “I look forward to students contacting me directly so I can offer the support they need to do well in my course,” she states emphatically.
In her spare time, Jennifer enjoys enjoy knitting, crocheting, and playing board games. Her two favorite games are Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. Not surprisingly, both games involve building and creating new worlds.
Jennifer may not have too much time to play games come September, when she is expected to give birth to a little girl, a baby sister to her daughter. The new baby will join a family that also includes two canine friends, Heidi and Hunter, whom Jennifer refers to as her grading buddies. “Hunter lays down beside me on the couch and likes to rest his head on my keyboard and Heidi likes to serve as my foot warmer,” she notes.
Jennifer loves hearing from her JMHS students and makes sure all students feel welcome and involved in their distance learning education.