There’s never a typical day in Jackie Roehl’s 10th-grade English class. One day might involve analyzing a poem through drawings, while another could include a student-led poetry slam. In fact, the 55-minute class often includes up to four activities in one period. “The best compliment ever is when a student says to me, ‘The hour’s over already?’ ” says Roehl. “I try to vary the activities every day so they never know what’s happening.”
Roehl’s innovative teaching was honored this past May when she accepted the Minnesota Teacher of the Year award. She was nominated for her work reducing the racial achievement gap through culturally responsive learning. “Every student has his or her own culture that is independent,” Roehl says. “We have to find ways to reach them.” Through these efforts, Roehl helped start a culturally responsive leadership committee 10 years ago—and most recently an evening class in the subject at Hamline University for other Edina teachers—that began looking at ways to best serve all students.
New this school year will be one English course for all teachers, eliminating the separation between enriched and regular ninth- and 10th-grade classes. “It raises the academic tone for all students,” Roehl says. “We still have all these challenging assignments in place, but it raises all students up because we need everyone to be as successful as possible.”