This blog post is part of our 2019 Teacher Appreciation Week celebration highlighting just a few of the teachers at public charter schools who are going above and beyond for their students. Thank you to all the teachers in the charter school movement!
Renee Wendt is a 5th grade teacher at Dove Academy of Detroit —a charter school that is proudly celebrating its 21st year serving students and families on the east side of the city. Renee’s driving mission as an educator is to keep her students away from negative influences in the city. That’s one of the many reasons that she was nominated as the Michigan Teacher of the Year.
To hear more about her journey in education, I sat down with Wendt for Q&A.
How did you feel when you first found out you were nominated for the for the Michigan Department of Education Teacher of the Year award?
My nomination for Michigan Teacher of the Year came as a complete surprise. I felt beyond honored that I was regarded so highly and that my dedication to Dove Academy and Choice Schools Associates hadn’t gone unnoticed.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
My road to becoming an educator was an ever winding one. Initially, my love of math took me on the accounting path, thinking that would be a perfect fit. Flash forward two years and too many calculations later, I realized it was not the career for me. As cliché as it sounds, I wanted to do something that had a bigger impact, and made a difference. While a career as an accountant would’ve been fulfilling financially, it wouldn’t have done anything to fill my soul.
After taking significant time off of school and while working as a nanny, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Education was the place for me. I had always been involved in tutoring and mentoring programs in high school, and had done some volunteer work with kids in college, but being a teacher never occurred to me until that moment. From then on, like they say, the rest is history.
What led you to working at a charter school today?
The fact that families now have a choice of where to send their students played a huge factor into why I work at a charter school today. Growing up, you went to your neighborhood district school and that was just how it was. It didn’t matter if the school wasn’t performing well or if they weren’t able to meet the needs of the individual learners. If you lived in the area, that’s where you were going. Now parents have to ability to decide what is best for their child and act accordingly.
Accountability is another reason why teaching at a charter school is the right fit for me. If we are not fulfilling our end of the bargain as educators, our contracts can be terminated. If the school as a whole is consistently not performing, it’s charter can be revoked. While that’s not something anyone strives for, knowing we are being held to a higher standard makes me proud to be part of a successful charter school.
Describe how Dove Academy assists you in succeeding as a teacher?
At Dove, we have a lot of layers of support for not only our students, but also our teachers and other staff members. Knowing I have this system of support available to me has enabled me to be a successful teacher. From our administrators, to our management company, there is an unspoken open-door policy that allows for an environment of professional learning and growth.
Describe your students.
This is something I could go on and on about. I have been beyond blessed with the groups of students I’ve had the pleasure of educating. The fifth grade group I have this year is extra special to me because I had many of them as first graders. If they weren’t in my class that year I have either coached them in soccer or pulled them in small groups. I have had the opportunity to form some sort of relationship with them. This rare opportunity has made for an amazing school year. My kids are THE BEST!
What makes the teachers at Dove Academy so special to work with?
The love and dedication that the staff has at Dove blows my mind on a regular basis. It’s not just the teachers who display these characteristics — it seems to radiate from everyone that works at Dove. Obviously, the teachers have the most contact with our kids, but from the second you walk into the main office, the commitment to excellence that Dove has is obvious. We’re all there for the same reason, to educate, and nurture every child that walks into our building.
What other teachers deserve a shot out for their work at Dove Academy?
This is a difficult question. My first instinct is to shout out those of us who have stayed through some difficult times and continue to persevere, and help Dove reach its potential. However, we have some incredible additions to our staff this year that are already making a huge impact. I think overall as an entire staff we deserve a shout out. We’re making sure that Dove continues to be a school that parents choose to bring their children to.
How do teachers work collaboratively at Dove Academy?
The focus on collaborating to improve student achievement and making data-based decisions has become part of the culture of Dove. Weekly grade level professional learning communities and weekly whole staff professional learning communities give the staff at Dove a lot of opportunities to meet and collaborate formally. However, what I believe makes the “Dove Difference” is the teachers and support staff that take the time to meet informally and share ideas during their prep, lunch, or even via text and email from home.
What words of advice would you give to other charter school teachers?
My words of advice to other current and potential charter school teachers is “Don’t believe the hype and educate others.” Charter schools tend to get a lot of negative attention in the media, and many people are still unclear about what charter schools actually are. If those of us who have experience with public charter schools spread facts to others, some of what can be considered a stigma, might be lifted. Obviously, like anything else there are always going to be naysayers, but by speaking the truth and highlighting the positives about teaching in a charter school, we can continue to attract and retain high-quality educators.
Renee is dedicated to the education field and serving the next generation. She currently sits on the board of the Detroit Community Education Commission, a nonprofit organization with a mission to break down barriers that prevent families from accessing quality schools in Detroit.
Kelsey Nelson is the manager for campaigns and publications at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
WE LOVE YOU MS. WENDT CONGRATULATIONS!