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WEST SUBURBAN CHICAGO–These area moms are dedicated and devoted both at home and at school, where they teach today’s youth, giving them the tools to achieve their dreams in life.
Colleen Stillwagon of Naperville Colleen Stillwagon can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else but a teacher. She remembers playing school in her basement as a teacher with her stuffed animals and little brother as her students.
She began teaching at Benjamin Middle School in West Chicago, and twenty-one years later, is still a part of the “Benjamin Family”. Being a mom and a teacher, Colleen has a great back-and-forth with her children and students. Her kids tell her stories from school and hear what she would do when it comes to teaching, grades and friend conflicts.
Colleen’s students sometimes become her advisors. “When my kids are not behaving, I’ll ask my students what they think would be a suitable action. They can relate to my stories, and I can relate to them.” –MK
Danielle Reuterskiold of Plano As a teacher at the non-secular, not-for-profit, Grace Holistic Center for Education in Yorkville, Danielle Reuterskiold had the joy of watching the school grow from the ground-up. She also has the fabulous opportunity to teach in the same school that her three children attend. “I get to see my children grow at school as I peek in their classrooms,” says Danielle.
Danielle teaches language arts, history, yoga and meditation for 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Since GHCFE has three grades in one classroom and the classes are small, she has flexibility to be creative with outdoor lessons or a forest recess. The environment also allows her to form longer relationships with her students. “My heart is happy seeing growth in these students over the years they are in my class.” –MK
Jennifer Steffen of Aurora The daughter of a former Naperville teacher, Jennifer Steffen is walking in her mother’s footsteps. Jennifer always knew she liked working with children, but it wasn’t until she volunteered with Special Olympics in college that she found her love for working with special needs kids.
“I love seeing the joy on these kids’ faces when they’ve mastered a skill that they’ve been working on,” says Jennifer, who has been in the field of special education for nineteen years and teaching in a self-contained classroom in Naperville’s Still Middle School for nine.
To be able to spend more time with her daughter, Leah (8), Jennifer tries to include her. “Some of my daughter’s favorite things to do are help me set up the classroom for the year and coming into summer school to say ‘hi’ to all the kids.” –MK
Meredith Jordan of Elburn Meredith has great time-management skills and requires little sleep allowing maximum quality time with her two children Makenna (6) and Jake (4) while working full-time as an Adapted P.E. and Health Education teacher at Metea Valley High School.
Running half-marathons, biking, and living a healthy lifestyle is her way of being an active role model to her students and children. She sets high expectations for both and believes it is her job to provide the necessary tools and learning experiences for them to do so. Meredith is also the spirit sponsor at Metea and coordinates school wide pep assemblies/spirit weeks/mascot/tailgate themes/school dances, while also finding the time to teach at The University of St. Francis. Time management at its finest! –KK
Allison Thomas of Geneva Allison Thomas first started teaching elementary school in Maryland in the 90’s. When she moved to Illinois in 2000 and had her third son, she enjoyed life as a stay-at-home mom until 2010, when she was faced with a divorce of a seventeen-year marriage. She took on a full-time job as a paraprofessional while taking many classes and tests to recertify her teaching license to Illinois standards.
“I had to jump through many hoops, and I had many doors close until I was provided the opportunity to teach in St. Charles,” says Allison, who will be teaching second grade at Davis Primary for her third year in the district. “I feel this experience has shown my children, if you work hard, you will find what brings you happiness.” –MK
Tina Michaels of Glen Ellyn After 16 years of instructing Language Arts, Tina has learned the art of engaging today’s students with classics like “The Great Gatsby”. She loves the complex and curious minds of teenagers; and although Tina plans her curriculum obsessively, she welcomes the unexpected - including hearing various students’ insight and analysis of texts and connections to their own lives and society. She prides herself on teaching success in AND out of the classroom, teaching her students to love life and love themselves.
Teaching requires hefty hours of grading, so balancing time at home with her 6-year-old twin sons and 8-year-old daughter is always her biggest challenge. The key to Tina’s sanity is regularly practicing vinyasa yoga and having a husband who doubles as a great chef! –KK
Alysha Glover of Naperville Having a background in social work, Alysha attends to her student’s social and emotional needs as well as their academic needs. Building relationships effectively allows her to educate 100+ students at Jane Addams Middle School, Benedictine University, University of St. Francis, and College of DuPage.
Alysha sets high expectations for her students and her three children Isabelle (11), Kai (9), and Giulianna (7), expecting manners, respect, and strong communication skills from all. After juggling pupils all day, Alysha is mindful to spend quality time with her kids at home and in their extra-curricular activities, even coaching her daughter’s volleyball team.
It has always been important to Alysha that her children are taken care of no matter what the circumstances, and she strives to live by example. –KK
Kathy Tichelbaut of Naperville Raised in a dual language home, Kathy was constantly acquiring new skills while honing her Polish heritage. She perfected her teaching skills early on through hours of playing school with her little brother.
Kathy’s high school cheerleading coach and FACS teacher inspired her to pursue these same interests catapulting her career in Senior Foods and Child Development at Neuqua Valley High School for the past 11 years, while simultaneously coaching the varsity cheer team.
Making time to get to know her students and athletes, ensuring she is caring for their many different needs and personalities, is as important as being present and compassionate to her own children, Olivia (3) and Ava (5 months). Kathy values the importance of family, loves the diversity each day brings, and enjoys entertaining with homemade baked goods. –KK
Autumn Gilchrist of Sugar Grove Autumn Gilchrist’s two little boys, Austin (4) and Jason (2), keep her on her toes, smiling, laughing and patient. She is positive being a mom has shaped her to be a better teacher. A twelve-year veteran educator, Autumn currently teaches Kindergarten at Blackberry Creek Elementary School.
Autumn feels like being a teacher mom is an impossible combination at times. She is fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing village, one she has to rely on when work has to come first. “That’s the hard reality,” says Autumn. “I often have to put my family second. It’s a constant balancing act, but I’m so grateful that my boys will grow to see me doing something I love – being a mom and a teacher!” –MK
Marianne Leahy of Bolingbrook
Attitude is everything and that’s what has gotten Marianne through her 23 years of teaching Language Arts while raising her sons now 18 and 19 years old. Her secret to balancing work and home life while also serving as Vice President of the IPSD 204 newly formed STEPS PTSA, is never bring papers or projects home to grade. This theory has allowed her to remain active in the community and commit to a healthy lifestyle kayaking, running, hiking, biking, and yoga with her family.
Marianne also volunteers for Special Olympics supporting her son who has Down Syndrome; is a member of Naperville’s St. Raphael Church CHRP women’s retreat planning group, and supports her passion for reading while relaxing in her hammock! –KK
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