Award Winners Drawn to Teaching

School of Education alum Jesse Martin of James Madison High School.

UWM photo by Troye Fox

Teaching is challenging and finding good teachers for urban schools is difficult.

That may be common wisdom, but two UWM School of Education alumni are proving that good teaching, while still challenging, has a home in their urban classrooms.

Jesse Martin of James Madison High School and Jorie Struck of Riverside University High School received state-wide awards for their teaching from the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English at the group’s annual conference the weekend of Oct. 19.

Jorie Struck was selected as the winner of the Outstanding Student Teacher of the Year Award for the 2017-2018 School year for her work from January to June at Bradley Tech. Jesse Martin won the Nancy Hoefs Memorial Award for Outstanding First Year Teachers for last year’s work at James Madison.

Both are passionate about their work and their students.

Struck teaches five sections of first-year English, and of her 125 students one-third have a first language –15 different languages – that is not English or Spanish.

That diversity brings a special dimension to her classes, she says.

As the students were preparing to read Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian,” for example, they had a discussion about the idea of needing to leave where you are in order to find success.

“Students who immigrated to the United States or whose parents were immigrants really brought forth some great personal evidence about why they left their homes in different countries,” says Struck. “It provided students who have lived here their whole lives a unique perspective, specifically with regards to the things we take for granted like access to education and being guaranteed the right to learn every day.”

Martin’s classes at James Madison are 97 percent African American and the majority live in poverty. Many have experienced trauma in their lives so building a trusting, respectful climate in the classroom is the foundation Martin works on.

“A lot of them have hesitations about trusting people and opening up and expressing themselves, but if they trust you even a little bit, it’s amazing how much they will share with you.”

In reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” for example, Martin asked the students to write a short autobiography. “They shared some really, really intense emotional experiences, but you have to have that trust. If you have that human connection, it comes naturally. I think people want to trust people.”
Both Struck and Martin took a nontraditional path to teaching. In fact, Struck, named her mother, a 34-year veteran music teacher, as one of her biggest role models despite the fact that Struck actively resisted following in her mom’s footsteps. However, after graduating from Marquette with a degree in communication, she took a service learning opportunity in Cape Town, South Africa where she said she felt called to teach.

School of Education Alum Jorie Struck of Riverside High School.

UWM Photo by Elora Hennessey

“Even though I had dirt-floored classrooms of 40 students who spoke Xhosa, a language filled with clicks I didn’t understand, I had never felt so at home in my life. I felt like I had a natural physical response to teaching that — despite it being the most stressful thing I’d ever done –I felt physically, emotionally and mentally fulfilled.”

Growing up, Martin moved around a great deal because his father was in the military. The family ended up in rural Wisconsin when he was in 7th grade. He originally came to UWM to study classical guitar. “UWM has a wonderful program and I loved it.” But, he decided he wanted to make a different type of contribution to the universe, and after finishing his undergraduate degree in English, he moved into the post-baccalaureate education program.

Both Martin and Struck found UWM, with its emphasis on urban education, perfectly fit what they wanted to do.

“Going into the program at UWM, I didn’t have any idea of where I wanted to teach and the program is the only one in the state that tailored its curriculum to urban education,” says Martin. “I was steeped in this culture of teachers who worked in Milwaukee public schools and who loved it. I realized it was important to do that after getting the degree. There are so many students who are underserved in many ways. I felt there was an obligation to give back to the city that had given me a teaching career.”

“I think UWM’s focus on urban education was the biggest determining factor in my decision to join the program,” says Struck who went into the post-baccalaureate/master’s program for her degree in curriculum and instruction. “I knew that I didn’t want to go back to my hometown to teach…not that they don’t deserve quality English teachers in all cities and towns across the country — but I have always felt drawn to urban education because I think the change makers and people who are fighting to ensure all students have access to equal, exceptional education are working in these communities.”

After doing a semester student teaching in a Chinese middle school in Beijing as part of her preparation, she was also convinced that a diverse classroom was where she wanted to be.

“I love working with diverse learners, English language learners, students who may not have been afforded the same opportunities as others who still want to be and deserve to be successful inside and out the classroom.”

UWM Alumni Do Well in English Education Awards

In recent years, UWM alumni have won numerous first year and student teaching awards from the Wisconsin Council for Teacher Education. Here’s a listing of the awards.

First -Year Teachers

  1. Megan Krueger Sampson (at Waukesha) 2009-2010
  2. Danielle Hartke (now at UWM)
  3. Robbyn Schley (at Greendale)
  4. David Pederson (at St. John’s)
  5. Jason Orozco (at Riverside)
  6. Stephanie Nook (at Alliance) 2015
  7. Jesse Martin (at James Madison Academic Campus) 2018

Outstanding Student Teachers

  1. Lance Taylor 2010-2011
  2. Liz Thompson 2009-2010
  3. Amy Harter (Sheboygan) 2008-2009
  4. Carol Peronto (at Arrowhead) 2003-2004
  5. Sheri Turnicliff (at West Allis) 2002-2003
  6. Michelle Velma Fritz 2012-2013
  7. Lindsey Loberg (Professional Learning Institute) 2013
  8. Haley Nattinger 2014
  9. Patrick Porwall 2015
  10. Jason Lopez 2016 (Bradley Tech)
  11. Marjorie Elizabeth Struck (at Bradley Tech) 2018

If you would like to help fund Student Success, please visit the Give to UWM webpage.

Or contact Carol Wacker at (414) 229-3080 or wackerc@uwm.edu to explore opportunities to support students, ensure research excellence and enable ongoing collaborations with community schools and organizations.