In mid-October, five area teachers were honored by the Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee for their work in service learning, “… a form of experiential learning where students apply academic knowledge and critical thinking skills to address genuine community needs.”
Their projects – which range in scope from environmental activism to artistic expression and humanitarian assistance –clearly illustrate the impact teachers have upon both their students and the communities in which they teach.
We sat down with each award-winning teacher to find out more about what inspires them to engage with their students and their community in these powerful ways.
Beth Mudlaff of St. Catherine’s High School, Racine has taken the lead in reshaping service-learning activities at SCHS.
Mudlaff organized all aspects of “Week With A Purpose,” coordinating service work at 18 agencies that were specifically chosen to reinforce what students were learning in class and exposing many students to the neediest communities. She posed provocative questions, requiring students to reflect on cultural, social, economic, and political issues while addressing myths, perceptions, and attitudes held by Americans. She has also worked with school administration to define and expand service expectations for all students, grades 6-12, including utilization of the family handbook to better inform students and parents of the purpose and expectations for service learning at SCHS.
Celebrate Teachers & Teaching: Why did you decide to dedicate your life to teaching?
Beth Mudlaff: I left the business world to take a full time teaching job in October of 2001 and I’ve never looked back. I know it sounds like a cliché but I wanted to do something that had an impact. When I think of who changed my life the most, many of these people were my teachers. I want to be that for my students.
CTT: What are some of the positive transformations you’ve seen within your school and your students since implementing a service-learning curriculum?
BM: Some of the changes I’ve seen in my students because of service learning projects are a real ability to see the world outside of themselves. They think of others more readily.
CTT: How do you envision the lessons and skills students learn through service-learning projects translating into improvement within your community and/or the city of Milwaukee?
BM: It is my hope as we continue to expand service learning in our school that the students will continue to grow in compassion and a willingness to serve the community. As they grow I hope they are inspired to do more than fundraisers but truly try and tackle the systemic problems that affect our community.
More than simply building community outside of our school our service learning builds a community within our school. More and more I see students who are excited to share with other students new service opportunities as they become available.
CTT: What motivates you to continue pushing yourself (“keep calm, teach on”) as a teacher often faced with stressors unimaginable for those outside the teaching profession?
BM: How do I keep calm and teach on? I love what I do. This is simply the best job I’ve ever had. There is nothing like seeing a student really look at the world with a new understanding and see them carry that understanding out of my class.