Teachers are Superheroes!
The start of this school year was fraught for everyone—parents, students, and teachers alike. Throughout the pandemic, our Woodward Academy teachers have persevered every day and overcome many obstacles to give students what they need, academically and emotionally. The story of one day in the life of one Primary School teacher conveys what we mean when we say that teachers are superheroes.
Early in the school year, Madeleine Flournoy learned she would need to quarantine and teach remotely for 14 days because of exposure to COVID-19. (Thankfully, she tested negative.) She was crushed that she couldn’t be present with her second grade class to navigate the start of this very different school year, but she had peace of mind knowing that she would be able to connect with students through virtual instruction on Zoom while Assistant Principal Erica Wiltshire covered her classroom in person.
But, one morning she woke to find that an overnight storm had knocked out power to her neighborhood. “I was in an absolute panic that I was not going to be able to instruct my students that day,” Mrs. Flournoy said. “However, I remembered that the school has Wifi that I can access without entering the building. I was very lucky in that Woodward Academy’s resources allowed for a solution to the problem.”
Mrs. Flournoy drove to the Primary School with her laptop and taught from her car in the parking lot. “I remember telling my students that I was at school with them in the parking lot in my bright green car. I could see them looking out of the window and hear them excitedly saying that they could see me. That moment made all the difference in regaining perspective on why we do what we do as teachers. Our students are our source of light, hope, and joy.”
At one point, her husband drove to school with coffee and a laptop charger. Later, Mrs. Flournoy realized she needed gas so she drove to a nearby station and then returned to the parking lot. She kept her car running to power her laptop and AC. When her husband texted that power was back on at home, Dr. Wiltshire covered her class while Mrs. Flournoy returned home to teach for the rest of the day. It was a teaching experience she won’t soon forget.
Curious about this teacher who went to such great lengths to connect with her students, Beyond the Gate talked with Mrs. Flournoy about her life and her choice to teach at Woodward.
Beyond the Gate: Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up and go to school? Did you always want to be a teacher?
Madeleine Flournoy: I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. My family immigrated to the United States when I was 9 years old, for additional educational opportunities. I attended both public and private schools. When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to participate in a program called Teacher Cadet to work with students at elementary schools. I discovered that I enjoyed helping younger students with their academics, as well as just interacting with them. I attended the University of Georgia for my undergraduate degree in child and family development and earned my Master of Arts in teaching from the Metropolitan State University of Denver. I’ve been teaching for 15 years and have had the privilege of serving students in private and public schools in Georgia, Tennessee, and Colorado.
BTG: What attracted you to Woodward? And what do you like about teaching here?
MF: My husband and I decided to return to the Atlanta area after earning our degrees. As I was searching for a potential employer, Woodward Academy stood out as a school with similar values in regards to placing students first. When I interviewed at the Primary School and had a chance to meet my future colleagues, I immediately knew that this is where I wanted to be. The students seemed genuinely excited to be in school, the faculty were warm, and the campus was beautiful. I am now in my third year of teaching second grade at the Primary School.
BTG: Tell us about the experience of teaching during the pandemic. What have been the challenges?
MF: Teaching through the pandemic has been quite the adventure. It has been a reminder that relationships are at the heart of who we are as human beings. I have been amazed by how resilient children are as well as how dedicated and flexible teachers have to be. Also, I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the unbelievable responsibility that comes with being a parent. I am not one myself, but I have watched many families make adjustments to make this experience as smooth as possible for their children. The biggest challenge by far has been not being able to connect in person with students in the same ways I have always done throughout my career.
BTG: What have been the bright spots and advantages of teaching at Woodward specifically during the pandemic?
MF: Thanks to support for The Woodward Fund, I am blessed to have so many resources at Woodward. When many schools were unable to begin on campus instruction in a safe way, Woodward worked diligently to put measures in place to ensure the safety and health of the whole community while offering both in-person and remote school. Furthermore, I have had the crucial advantage of having my assistant teachers to help educate and support our students. My previous assistant, Mrs. Lillian Todd, and my current assistant, Mrs. Jenny Conner, have made it possible to reach every student where they are, as well as to manage the essential daily logistics of a school day incredibly smoothly. I am thankful for other resources including access to technology, professional development, support from my colleagues, flexibility in adjusting classroom instruction, and changes to the physical environment to best accommodate students.
BTG: Tell us your perceptions of the Woodward community generally and the Primary School in particular.
MF: If I could describe Woodward Academy in one word, I would choose “dedicated.” It is comprised of families, faculty, and staff who strive toward building community. It’s a community that offers rigorous academics as well as a number of opportunities and resources for enrichment outside of academics. The school is dedicated to searching out ways to continually improve and make a positive impact on the surrounding community. It is my belief that we all have a responsibility to reflect on ourselves as individuals and as members of a number of institutions, to make the changes our society currently needs. I am proud of the Academy for engaging with this work in its efforts surrounding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. At the Primary School, I have been amazed by the tenacity, resilience, and flexibility of the students and my fellow teachers. They rise to the challenge each day, and I can proudly say that they have gone above and beyond all expectations. We are lucky to have Eric Mitchell as our principal. He has made countless efforts to ensure that we as teachers feel supported and have the ability to adjust to this new norm. I am blessed to be a part of this phenomenal community.
BTG: We are in the midst #fALLINforWA, the parent fundraising campaign for The Woodward Fund. How do gifts to The Woodward Fund support you as a teacher?
MF: This year, teachers have had to contend with so many challenges including making sure the physical environment is suitable for social distancing, individualizing student tools and resources, utilizing technology to accommodate a synchronous hybrid learning environment for virtual and campus learners, restructuring schedules to accommodate time for planning or professional development, and providing opportunities for students to safely socialize. These are all challenges that have been met by resources from The Woodward Fund. It is one of the reasons our school year has been as successful as it has been.
BTG: Tell us about yourself - your hobbies and interests - and your family.
MF: My family is by far the most important aspect of my life. They are my mother, brother, stepfather, husband, and two dogs. They inspire me to push myself to keep growing. I know that I can go into each day knowing that no matter what happens, they will always be there to love, support, and guide me. I enjoy traveling with my husband, watching soccer, and playing with my dogs. I also spend my weekends talking to my family in California.
BTG: The theme of this story is Teachers as Superheroes. Who are your heroes?
MF: This is a difficult question, as I believe every teacher deserves this title. If I absolutely have to choose, I would identify the following people at the Primary School: Ms. Tammy Bailey, who was my mentor during my first year; Dr. Kimberly Canty, who has always gone out of her way to ensure I had the emotional and professional resources to be successful; and Dr. Wiltshire, who has tirelessly worked to stand in the gap in any way necessary for all. I always learn something professionally and socially from these amazing educators with every interaction I have with them. Their brilliance, dedication, resilience and humanity encapsulate everything I love about being a teacher at Woodward Academy.
Want to join other parents in supporting teachers like Mrs. Flournoy? Make a gift to The Woodward Fund during our #fALLINforWA fundraising campaign between now and November 13. You can make a gift today or pledge now and pay by May 31, 2021.