InClass

The Phoenix Union High School District employee answers questions about the engaging learners, pie and more. Mary Wimmer is a National Board Certified Teacher at Alhambra High School. She teaches yoga, physical education and health, and is a coach for the cross country and track teams.What is your

Dec 18, 2015

The Phoenix Union High School District employee answers questions about the engaging learners, pie and more.


Mary Wimmer is a National Board Certified Teacher at Alhambra High School. She teaches yoga, physical education and health, and is a coach for the cross country and track teams.

What is your go-to idea for engaging reluctant learners?

MW: When I see a student is struggling I know that it is rarely about not knowing the subject matter. After 27 years as a teacher, I’ve found that there is usually something bigger going on. Whether it is lack of food, electricity or more people living in their space… I always ask what is going on—Is everything okay at home, and with relationships?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts basic survival first and that is exactly what impacts my students. Who can learn when they are hungry or sleepy? For example, a month ago, I noticed a student’s grades dropping by two or three letter grades. Also, I noticed she was squinting and not wearing her glasses. I asked her about her glasses, she said her mother was going to fix them. After a month of no glasses, I asked her to bring them in to see if I could get them repaired. I asked a former student who owns his own eyeglass store if he would look at them. He agreed and ended up replacing the glasses completely.

What is something parents should do to support their child’s learning?

MW: Help them become responsible young adults. Give them responsibility and hold them accountable.

Who is the teacher that inspired you?

MW: My inspiration actually comes from two coaches. NFL Coach Gary Zauner was my high school track coach. He pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone and be the best I can be. I learned to be uncomfortable in order to become better on the track, and that carried over in life. I learned it’s perfectly fine to push others to achieve greatness. Also, my other coach at UW LaCrosse, Gary Wilson, demonstrated how to be an outstanding coach. He managed a 200-plus-person track and field team and built cohesiveness, while expecting the best performances out of everyone at all times.

Why do you teach?

MW: I teach because I make a difference! I love positively affecting the lives of my students.

What should students get their teacher during the holiday season?

MW: My best gift has been having two former students as my student teachers! It is the biggest complement ever.

What is your favorite educational movie?

MW: Dangerous Minds. When it first came out all of my students told me that it was a movie about me. The fact that Michelle Pfeiffer and I are both blondes was coincidental. Teaching in an inner city school is as challenging as the movie made it seem. My students have been through those same struggles and I have supported them emotionally to the best of my ability. Getting letters from two different students in prison telling me they should have listened to me was both heartbreaking and validating. I was reminded to never give up on any of them, ever!

What is your favorite lesson to teach and why?

MW: I don’t have one favorite lesson. I love observing and being part of the epiphanies that happen in my classroom and the real-world applications of the classroom lessons outside later in life. My “evidence” of learning may show up on a Facebook post! I know that I make a difference and am reminded on a daily basis.

What is one thing you would change to improve teaching and learning in AZ schools?

MW: First I would require physical education every day; the research validating this is everywhere, active students learn better.

Overall, we do a huge disservice to our students coming into high school by not requiring them to pass classes in order to progress to the next grade. As freshmen, they aren’t used to needing to pass a class in order to move to the next grade. Many come to high school with math and reading skills far below grade level, not because their middle school teachers were bad teachers, but because they tried to make up for missed knowledge. A college roommate, now a principal in a middle school in Flagstaff, had the solution. She presented it to their school board and implemented it at her school two years ago. Students are required to pass their core subjects, earning “units”. If they do not earn the unit for the class they must re-take it. Electives are also required to move on, but are reduced based on the number of courses needing re-learning. After two years, the failure rate of sixth graders involved in the program is half that of eighth graders who are taking the traditional route. She is also a former physical education teacher whose students have daily physical education and an extra nine-week rotation in their “elective” period.

Apple or pumpkin pie?

MW: It depends on the time of year! Pumpkin is my go-to in the fall and apple during the rest of the year! I’d prefer to have a pie for my birthday, rather than a cake.

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