Ms. Mikaela Sanders, Third Grade Teacher
Mikaela was born in Minnesota and lived there until she was about five. Her parents went through a divorce and when her mom remarried they moved to California while her step-dad did training for his job as regional manager for a company. His job moved them from Pennsylvania to Missouri, then onto southern Maryland where Mikaela began her first year of high school. Growing up, Mikaela always enjoyed being around children, she was the first to pick up a baby at a party and carry it around; she always seemed to have a motherly instinct. She often babysat and was able to save up for her first car with the money she earned. During high school, she did a work-study program that allowed her to work at a daycare. Her senior year, she really started to think about what she wanted to do for her future. Mikaela found great support from two amazing teachers that were a positive influence on her learning. She credits them with getting her through high school, they made school fun and gave her real-life applications. Also because of them, she knew that was something she wanted to do for other kids and make that difference as well. After high school, she attended Towson University in Baltimore. She took a few detours along the way and pursued restaurant management for a while. But she soon realized sometimes managing adults can be much harder than managing kids! That pushed her back to school to do what she really wanted, to become a teacher.
After graduating from college, she began teaching in the Baltimore County School District. There she bounced around teaching 1st, 4th & 5th grade. Not long after, Mikaela and her husband welcomed their son Mason into the family. After becoming a mom, she was not sure public school was what she wanted for her son. It was a time that testing was really being pushed and there was a lot of politics going on with that, so she looked at moving into a private school. She got a job teaching at Friends School of Baltimore in 2008 where she taught 1st and 5th grades. During this time, she and her husband had talked about moving, and since her husband worked remotely this gave them some flexibility. They had visited Colorado over the years and loved the climate and also had friends there. In the end, their love for the outdoors drew them to Colorado. Their son Mason was in 2nd grade when they moved to Castle Rock. Renaissance was not really on their radar and they felt comfortable in their neighborhood school. School Choice was not something you hear about on the east coast, but the more she read about it, she thought maybe she should have looked into schools more. That is how she found Renaissance, and boy was she bummed that she did not find this school sooner! It seemed like a great segue from the school they were coming from. After trying for a while they were able to get Mason in for his 5th-grade year. Mikaela said, “My son’s experience affirmed everything we had read and heard about the school, they live and breathe everything they say which is wonderful, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of this at some point.” Mikaela was a reading interventionist at another school in Castle Rock but also volunteered at REMS as Ms. Billie’s Crew Parent. After Mikaela’s son finished the 6th-grade and moved over to RSS she took the job of teaching 3rd-grade at Renaissance. Also, Ms. Billie had moved from 5th to 3rd which was great for Mikaela since they had already developed a relationship while Mikaela was her Crew Parent. Mikaela said, “It was great, I had known Billie for several years, her expertise has been very helpful. She is great to bounce ideas off of, and collaborate with.” The transition from being a parent at the school to being a teacher has been easy for Mikaela, and upon talking with her, you can tell how passionate she is about the values of the school. This is her 16th year teaching but her first time in the third grade. Mikaela said, “Third grade is really fun to teach. Actually every grade is fun to teach! But in 3rd, all of the kids come in very independent, they appreciate anything and everything you do. There is a mutual respect among all of us, AND they still think my jokes are funny!!” This year has been very special because of the great community she has built with her students and parents. “We are extremely close-knit. It is a nice balance of mutual respect and just an understanding of what we want the culture of our classroom to look like, and what we need to do to get there.”
You would think that going into Remote Learning would have made this tough for her first year, but Mikaela has stayed very positive and has made sure to keep hold of the Crew’s sense of community. Mikaela said, “The shared experiences we have had throughout the year before remote learning have been a solid foundation for our crew and help remind us that we can do hard things, and we can get through this, we just need different ways of thinking. Our kids and parents have been able to adapt, and there is a mutual understanding that whatever happens things will be ok. I have been emphasizing to parents what Ms. Deborah and Ms. Jill have said, which is, ‘you do you.’ I tell my students that we do the best that we can, and that there is more in the process than the final product. They will learn so much from this experience and process, and even if we have a few failures along the way, we keep going.”
Mikaela’s Crew has been getting very creative with their Zoom meetings. The whole Crew came up with the idea of Theme Thursday. Each Thursday they have had fun showing up with crazy hair, crazy hats, and even silly socks. They even celebrated a classmate’s birthday with a dance party! When asked what she likes most about working at REMS she said, “There are so many things! This job is very fulfilling and I appreciate the supportive community of kids, parents, and staff. As teachers, we have all been supportive of one another too. We just had a Primary meeting for Kindergarten through 3rd teachers. It was nice to hear from others about how, as teachers, everyone was handling what we are all going through. We were able to discuss different ways we could support one another. It was powerful, just a two-hour meeting, but one of the best things I have done while doing remote learning. On the administrative side, I love the autonomy we are given. We are encouraged to take risks, and there is a trust in us that we will all do what is best for the kids. I have been at schools where the trust was not there, it was more like, ‘Here is your script and curriculum; please follow it.’ That does not feel good as a teacher; we need to give students more than just curriculum. I love the Adventure Ed piece, and the bonding that takes place within the crew. Learning through Adventure Ed is important and valuable. We can apply the things we learn on voyages in the classroom. All of the staff at the school are passionate and dedicated to what they do, these pieces have been key to me.”
Outside of school, Mikaela enjoys reading a mix of professional development books, adult fiction, as well as the books her students are reading. Before Remote Learning began, Mikaela had told her husband she wanted a “She Shed” except for the shed part! They had talked about transforming one of the rooms in their house into her space. Finding out she would be teaching from home really sped this process up! She quickly made a space for herself with a desk and a couch where she could escape to teach or enjoy some time alone. Their family enjoys spending time together playing games, cooking, camping, hiking, and relaxing on their new deck along with their two dogs, Disco & Olive.
Ms. Billie had this to say about Mikaela, “She is very knowledgeable, organized, and has a wealth of knowledge to share with our staff. And, she is the mother of one of my former students. I feel we were so lucky to add her to our staff last year! It has been fun to work with her this year. “
It is always wonderful seeing a parent move into a teaching role at our school! Thank you, Mikaela, for sharing your passion for teaching with our 3rd graders.