April 18, 2021

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Skillful education crafters

Staci Turner’s connection to middle school kids vital to teaching them online

4 min read

Teaching middle schoolers can be quite a challenge. They are right at the angsty age where they are really finding out who they will become in the next few years before heading off to high school.

Those in seventh and eighth grade are often more self-aware than elementary school students, and in some cases, more serious than their high school counterparts.

One teacher rising to the task and striking an almost perfect balance is Lee Middle School’s own Staci Turner.

“She is an incredibly caring person and has provided a lot of that social-emotional support to our students and our staff,” said Lee Principal Shelley Friery. “She goes above and beyond to support students’ needs. If they need extra help, she’s there. The kids really open up to her because they know she cares about them so much.”

That level of care vaulted Turner on her current path.

Turner, who has been instructing Woodland Joint Unified School District students for the past 21 years, teaches eighth-grade science but is well-versed in math. The Vacaville native’s teaching arc began at UC Davis and ended at San Diego State, where she earned her bachelor’s in mathematics. Having also studied computer science and engineering prepared her to teach science as well.

After her bachelor’s, Turner went on to get her teaching credential at Chico State. While there, she entered an internship program, allowing her to work and earn her credential at the same time.

After bouncing back and forth from Woodland High School to Lee twice, Turner finally settled in at the middle school level after her oldest children began attending high school.

“I thoroughly enjoy middle school students,” Turner said. “I enjoy their perspective on life. Their silliness. Their seriousness. They are never the same kid two days in a row. I think they are super aware of themselves. They are just trying to figure out who they are, so they are a little timider. I love the difference you can make with middle school students.”

On top of connecting with and keeping her students engaged in lesson plans, Turner plays a vital role for the staff on campus. She has also played a key role in keeping the MESA club running all year, according to Friery.

“She has done so much in addition to being a phenomenal teacher to support us to make it through this year,” Friery said. “I don’t know how she finds the time to do all of this, but she does and is always willing to listen to anyone who is having a hard time.”

Before campuses closed due to COVID-19, Turner filled her class time with as much hands-on learning as possible. They also had High-Five Fridays, did some proportions lessons with paint, and generally knew what was going on in each other’s lives.

Turner likens current-day online teaching to producing a television show, but instead of preparing for one show every week, Turner says, “you are producing three episodes a week, and you are running each episode five times.”

Although instruction is not in person, Friery loves what she sees when she checks in on Turner’s class.

“I see kids who are engaged,” Friery said. “I see kids who participate actively. Online, it’s very difficult because you’re so limited with what you can do on the other side of the screen, but she has found a way to make it relevant and fun for the kids.”

Recently, one of her science classes participated in a 1-2 minute quick write activity where they were asked, “What will you tell the kids of 2120 about what you have learned regarding your self, life, and change?”

Here were some of the responses:

“I would tell (kids of 2120) them that I learned a lot about myself. I discovered new hobbies that I didn’t know I could like. I discovered new ways to calm myself down when I got too stressed. Furthermore, I discovered that all of a sudden, school got very stressful and difficult. And I realized that stuff wasn’t going to go back to normal in a while, so I got used to that way of living, and now I don’t have any idea how I’m going to get back to normal.”

“I will tell the kids of 2120 about how I learned that you learn a lot more about yourself when you’re alone, but no matter what you learn, no matter what changes about you, you’re still you, the people around you will still love you, and that no matter what happens, the  people in your life are valuable and they will always be there for you as long as you and they are good.”

“I’ve learned a lot about myself. I learned about all the problems that were hiding because of life, but when life was on pause, I found out that I have a lot of things I would’ve never known if COVID never happened.”

Turner was taken back by all of the responses.

“There is so much inside of them, and you just have to ask them, and it comes out. That’s why I do it,” Turner said. “What they would tell people, it’s so mature and thoughtful. Our youth are really more together and more in touch with what is going on than I think a lot of people give them credit for. That’s what I am proud of, that they may not have learned as much academics as they would have in a regular school year, but they have learned so much more that is going to take them through life in terms of different technology and the ability to monitor their own schedule.”