Wendy Taylor

Wendy Taylor of Poplar Grove has been teaching for 22 years in Belvidere’ District 100, the last 15 at Belvidere North H.S., where she teaches math. Theater teacher David Zimmerman raved of the great program he stepped into when Taylor transitioned to from teaching theater to math and how much he appreciated her mentorship. He says she is “an incredible teacher. She adapts to different classroom settings from an open theater space to a traditional classroom to an online space.” One of Taylor’s students wrote that “her mentoring is so valuable that students push themselves academically to be a part of that journey.” Taylor has seen many changes, especially over the past three years. This fall, some students returned to the classroom for the first time since the pandemic. “Our grading policy has changed; our seating charts have changed; they cannot see their classmate’s or their teacher’s faces. I made a conscious decision to let students know that they are seen by me, that I am listening, that I am there for them. I try to verbally respond to every student at least once a day, so they know that they are not a faceless body in my classroom.” She’s also attended more extracurricular events than ever. Her support in and out of class has been noticed and appreciated by staff, students and their families (who often don’t connect much otherwise, as her students are at a high level). She learned she shouldn’t cheer loudly at tennis matches, but she can as a volleyball superfan. Her efforts created a positive shift: “That connection has led some students to care about their grade in my class because it will make me happy. While I prefer intrinsic motivation, I’ll take what I can get from some kids, and it may begin to spark their confidence and interest in improving their learning.” She’s also changed teaching methods, incorporating the Experience First, Formalize Later method. Lessons start with a situation, story or problem for which students test, examine and compare data. Principal Jim Friesema witnessed a lesson in which Barbie bungee jumped off a staircase. Students determined how many rubber bands were needed and whoever got her closest to the ground without hitting it, won. He asked how the simulation related to math; they eagerly explained their data. After the lesson experience, when the class formalizes, she has them explain what they learned. “One of the sneakiest ways students can get credit for understanding is for me to eavesdrop as they explain a lesson or learning. If they understand the material well enough to answer their peer’s questions, they have shown me they are on the path towards mastery, and that is as valuable as any paper test.” True to the character of a math teacher, Taylor examined the data to conclude the difference she’s made through the connections and relationships she’s formed as a teacher. She gets Pi Day messages every March 14 from students she taught last year and all the way back to 2000. She received gifts from colleagues after a house fire. Plus, they selected her to be a content leader and union vice president. But Taylor feels that “the greatest accomplishment I can make as a teacher is to make connections with my students, to make them feel heard, appreciated and respected. By doing that, I open the door to their learning the content I teach. They may remember the content years down the road, but they will definitely remember the care and attention forever.”