Cheryl Janzen: “I am invested in you. I care about you”

To be effective, you have to be able to build relationships with your students. If not, education may not be your calling. I can be the hardest teacher, but my kids know I love them and know I want to help them and I try to meet them on their level. My students work hard […]

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To be effective, you have to be able to build relationships with your students. If not, education may not be your calling. I can be the hardest teacher, but my kids know I love them and know I want to help them and I try to meet them on their level. My students work hard because they know I’ve invested the time in them. I go to their extra-curricular events because I want them to know, “I am invested in you. I care about you.”

As a part of my interview series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator”, I had the pleasure to interview Cheryl Janzen.

Having served more than 27 years as an educator and over three years as a college counselor, Cheryl Janzen has a passion of working with students and guiding them on the right path to their future.

With educator and counselor certifications in Tennessee and Michigan, Cheryl has been acknowledged in both states for her expertise in the high school and post-secondary planning area even co-authoring a chapter of a book titled, “Educational Planning: Helping Students Build Lives by Choice, Not by Chance”.

During her career in the education field, Cheryl has helped and guided over 500 students through the college admissions process, leading to over 10,000 college acceptances and over $1 million received in financial aid.

In addition to teaching students, Cheryl is a college admissions consultant for Firat Education, where she is dedicated to providing a systemic approach to secondary and post-secondary planning that ensures opportunities for all students to be college or career ready upon graduating high school.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share the backstory behind what brought you to this career path?

I always tell people, “I was created to teach.” It was something I knew from a young age and I can remember sitting in my English classroom at 15 thinking, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to reach students the way my English teacher had and decided to never look back.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your teaching career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The most memorable story would be when I was a fairly new teacher and one of my students, that I hadn’t had in my class long, told me she was pregnant. This was going to be her second child and I was proud of her for staying in school, but I realized I wanted to help her get her diploma because this was going to be her way out.

At that moment, I knew my bachelor’s degree was not enough and I decided to enroll in a master’s program in counseling. This wasn’t just to be a school counselor, but to better serve my students with needs like those in my classroom. This story has driven the rest of my career.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m always trying to spice it up with my students. For this semester, I have an influx of junior high school students who will be taking the ACT, so I make it a point of mine to build in an opportunity for them to do well on the test. I plan to teach them skills that will transfer to their other classes and also connect to the ACT.

I also like preparing my junior students for life after graduation. My students have one more year in high school, and I like spending time with them seeing what this life looks like be it: college, a career, or the military.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

I tend to think of things as being glass half full. Having the opportunity to teach in two different states (Tennessee and Michigan), I have seen so much. I think as a whole, the US education system has awesome ideas and great programs, but could we do better? Absolutely. It’s just like anything else with a product or company, you could always do better. We are at a place in education where things have got to shift. We’ve seen a fast shift due to the pandemic and I don’t think K-12 education will ever look like it did before.

It’s a good thing, though. We can’t fear this change, we need to embrace it and look at how we can make this change work best for our students.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

One area that is going great for the US education system is inclusivity. We strive to bring all students in and give them an opportunity to learn whether they have special needs, be of a different gender or race.

Another area that’s going great is we have a better understanding of social-economic status and how poverty affects students. We are paying attention to demographics and we need to set the bar as equal for a lot of our students to make things fair. We are growing and understanding how this looks and are better helping students.

Student-teacher relationships in the classroom is another area our education system does well. I believe the greatest asset you can have in the classroom isn’t the technology or even the curriculum, it’s having the teacher in the room with students all the time.

Next, would have to be the ability to look at data. Schools are looking at data and taking it as tool to use when re-teaching a particular concept. Being able to understand and use data and apply it to help guide students is a big step that schools are doing really well.

Lastly, we are doing a great job with the connections students are making from K-12 to post-secondary. In the past 20+years I’ve been in education, we are doing a better job at letting students know that what they are learning is beyond this specific moment in their life, it’s something they can take with them forever.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

To start, if we are looking to improve things we’ve got to acknowledge and deal with overcrowding in schools. I am not nearly as effective in a room of 35 students as I am in a room of 20. We have to work towards reducing overcrowding.

Another area for improvement is funding, which is what everyone talks about. If you look at school systems around the world, you’ll see they’re not sending students to school for more hours, they are handling school in a different way — they are investing in schools and the children. Funding has to be talked about not just at a federal level, but as a combination of federal and state.

Raising the bar for teachers is another area for improvement. It’s awesome getting teachers into the field, be we need to do more to give them support like paying for professional or advanced degrees. These degree programs are helping teachers to develop and hone their craft.

We also need to stop ignoring the idea of the school to prison pipeline. Over 60% of kids who drop out of school spend time in prison. We’ve got to address and figure out how to keep students in school. If we do not, we are going to have to keep building more prisons than schools.

Finally, we need to improve access to mental health for our students and their families. We need to put more school counselors and social workers in the schools, so students have immediate access to assistance for mental, social, and emotional needs.

Super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator?” Please share a story or example for each.

To be effective, you have to be able to build relationships with your students. If not, education may not be your calling. I can be the hardest teacher, but my kids know I love them and know I want to help them and I try to meet them on their level. My students work hard because they know I’ve invested the time in them. I go to their extra-curricular events because I want them to know, “I am invested in you. I care about you.”

Of course, you have to be knowledgeable on the content you are teaching. As a teacher, I wouldn’t be good teaching calculus to students because I don’t know much about the subject. It would be the same for the calculus teacher to try to teach my content area.

You also need to have a blend of ethics and passion. Without either one, your professional career as a teacher won’t work. You can’t have a high moral compass and not be passionate about wanting to see your students grow.

Being a leader is definitely needed to be an effective teacher. You have to have those leadership skills to know when to take control in a classroom and when to let the students take the lead.

In addition to being a leader, you have to be a team player. You have to know when to take a step back and let your colleagues know that you can work with them and be a part of a team. This is something you’re not going to learn in an education program.

As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?

Pay and benefits need to be competitive. We have got to make it equitable in the school system. We have to pay for the advanced education and professional degrees. Many teachers have multiple jobs outside of the classroom in order to make ends meet.

Also, I think student loan forgiveness will attract top talent. For a school to say, “if you stay at this school for five years and we’ll take away that debt,” is an awesome way to attract those quality teachers and really good people to the classroom.

We should also invest in teachers. Schools want their teachers to be a better version of themselves, so why not match paying in full or a portion of an education class or degree teachers would want to take.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is one that I often share with my students. When students see I will be their teacher, they know my class is going to be a hard one, so I tell them early on that “the learning comes in the struggle.” When things are easy, you’re not necessarily learning; however, when you’re challenged that’s where the true learning happens. I also tell them not to fear change, but to embrace it because those changes can make you a better person.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The top of my list would be former President Obama or Michelle Obama or Dr. Jill Biden. All of those people had a dream and they did not let things stop them — they pursued those dreams. I’m proud to be a part of and see the growth the Obamas have brought to America. I see how they’re giving students the opportunity to believe they can do whatever they set their minds to. With Joe Biden taking office this month and having the first female Vice President, I keep telling my students there is no greater time to be alive!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can follow me on Twitter: @CherylatFIRAT

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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