The young duo have a lot in common. They’re both from Illinois, they both went to Illinois State University, they are the same age, and they both teach at Plano Middle School. Not only that, but they are two of the youngest teachers at the school and are running the student council together, currently planning their first school dance. Their biggest common interest, however, is that they both have a passion for connecting with young minds, educating them and being a positive influence on their lives.
Delaney Rogers- eighth grade English: “We really have to sell what we are teaching”
Delaney Rogers grew up in Sheridan and attended schools in Somonauk through high school. She always liked school and was very involved, participating in 4-H programs, student councils and other activities.
Rogers said neither she nor her family ever doubted she was going to be a teacher. She recalled when she was little she was constantly playing “school.” She would print math worksheets for her friends and sisters whenever they would have play dates.
When it came time to leave for college, she knew where she wanted to go and what she wanted to study. The hard decision for Rogers came during her second year at ISU when the time came to choose what age group and subject she would be teaching.
Although she always knew she’d be a teacher, when it came to the decision of what she’d be teaching, she found herself greatly inspired by her sixth grade English teacher at Somonauk Middle School, Mrs. Taxis, who taught language arts in a way that blended the skills of reading and writing with being a good person.
She recalled Mrs. Taxis choosing books that made her think about people who are different from her and books that helped her learn empathy from characters she could connect with.
“She not only taught us how to read and write,” Rogers said, “But she taught us how to be better people.”
When you’re in middle school, Rogers said, you’re really developing into the kind of person you want to be. Rogers felt it was such a critical time to teach kids those lessons, and from then on she knew what she wanted to do.
By the time she earned her degree in middle level education from ISU, she already had accepted the job at Plano Middle School.
Rogers said that as a new teacher, one of your biggest challenges is making sure your classroom management is solid. She described classroom management as making sure all students have respect for the teacher and each other, and setting up an environment in which learning can take place.
Once you have done that, she said, the biggest challenge is finding ways to get the students to connect and care about what you’re teaching.
“Attention spans have changed,” Rogers said, “We really have to sell what we’re teaching with engaging lesson plans and activities.”
Rogers said that the teachers’ understandings of the students’ needs has progressed a lot and it’s something she loves about her school.
She said Plano Middle School is all about encouraging the students’ developmental responsiveness, from flexible seating, standing desks and an advisory period where for 30 minutes a day students learn life lessons and skills from a teacher.
Rogers feels that being the new teacher gives her an advantage as it’s sometimes easier for her to relate to her students. She often uses TikTok and other social media or current events to connect with and engage them.
She said being a teacher has taught her that you have to be mindful of what everyone is going through, because not everybody is going to be excited to learn language arts every day.
“We’re all people first, and the learning can come second,” she said. “That’s been my biggest lesson.”
Madelyn Conroy- seventh grade language arts and history: ‘Seventh graders are still young enough to have fun in class’
Madelyn Conroy grew up in Plainfield, where she went to Indian Trail Middle School and Plainfield Central High School.
She was always into extracurricular activities like choir, band, drama club and soccer. After high school, she attended Illinois State University, where she thought she would get a degree in business.
She knew right away that she wasn’t into business, and said her teachers and adviser were such a support system for her, motivating and encouraging her to branch out and pursue various interests.
In her first year, she took a general education, child psychology class where she learned about how important good role models and educators are in shaping the minds of youth and fell in love with it.
Conroy remembered playing teacher as a child, with an easel and her stuffed animals, and changed her career path toward education.
She said she chose middle level because she doesn’t have the patience for the youngster students and she worried the high school kids would be smarter than her. So she found seventh grade comfortable.
“Seventh graders are still young enough to have fun in class,” Conroy said, “But they’re old enough that you can instill some responsibility.”
As she was getting closer to earning her degree in middle level education from ISU, she still didn’t know where she wanted to teach.
She attended a career fair at ISU, and at the Plano Middle School booth, she ran into an ISU alum whom she had a class with and really loved, Delaney Rogers.
Unfortunately, Plano Middle School didn’t have any openings at the time so Conroy continued her job search for nearly a year to no avail until one day she got a call from Plano SD88 with a job offer to teach seventh grade.
Conroy said a big part of what drew her to Plano Middle School was that they have an advisory period. She described the class as a 30-minute period for social and emotional learning, like a homeroom class that teaches real life lessons.
“If the kids don’t have that social and emotional learning,” she said, “They won’t care about the curriculum.”
A big lesson she likes to promote in her classroom is that it’s OK to be wrong, and it’s never a bad thing to ask questions. She said it’s important to show her students that she doesn’t know everything, and she often will Google things with her class or asks a colleague for help when they aren’t sure of an answer or how to spell something.
She said her mentor teacher and colleagues have been very supportive when she needs assistance on lesson plans.
Conroy said the past two years, you could slowly see the students getting less and less engaged in the classroom as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed.
“It’s disheartening, seeing the level of social anxiety rise,” she said. “On presentation days, a lot of students won’t even show up to school.”
Conroy said she believes the solution is to incorporate the technology that the students love into the classroom, but limit it, and encourage them to also engage in discussion.
She was inspired by her seventh grade language arts and history teacher, Ms. Hodge. Hodge worked on Broadway, was on “America’s Next Top Model” and wrote a children’s book.
“She was everything a teacher wasn’t,” Conroy said, “She was the coolest person.”
Conroy is even implementing one of Ms. Hodge’s classroom features, the chill box, where students can anonymously submit truth or dares or any questions they have into the box for her to read aloud.
Conroy said that being a new teacher gives her a great advantage, having been exposed to the most current and progressive approaches more recently than her peers.
Being a new teacher also gives her a platform to learn from experienced colleagues, and combine the two worlds to create an exciting curriculum.
Growing up, what book inspired or influenced you to become a teacher?
Delaney Rogers: “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. It’s a novel written for teenagers, but it helps Rogers remember what it was like when all the little stressful things in your life as a teenager felt like big things. It reminds her what it’s like to be a teenager again and helps her remember her purpose as a middle school teacher. It also connects with her passion for finding books that teach us how to be a better person and show a different point of view like the ones Mrs. Taxis showed her.
Madelyn Conroy: “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. Conroy said it isn’t so much the details within the story, but the idea of taking control of your own destiny and not being confined by societal boundaries that she takes to heart and tries to reinforce that narrative to her students.