MORRICE — It’s tough to get anything past teacher Chelsee Schram, so when her husband prompted her to change out of her pajamas and step outside on a weekday morning earlier this month, she was suspicious.
What came next for Schram, a second-grade teacher at Morrice Elementary School, was a surprise unlike any other: She had been named a 2020-21 Regional Teacher of the Year by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), and friends and coworkers showed up to cheer her accomplishment.
“A group of our staff members were on my front lawn and I was beyond surprised,” Schram said. “It was so overwhelming but just so comforting to know that the MDE appreciated what I had to say, my staff was appreciative of what I had to say. It was just really, really exciting.”
Schram was one of 10 Michigan educators to earn the designation this year. The teachers were chosen from more than 400 nominations submitted by students, staff and community members across the state. Nominees were invited to participate in a competitive application process — consisting of a series of essays — through which the 10 were selected.
Schram, who was nominated by her own former middle school teacher, June Teisan — a former Michigan Teacher of the Year in 2007-08 — represents Region 6, which includes Shiawassee, Clinton, Ingham and Eaton counties. She and the other regional winners are in the process of interviewing with a panel of statewide education stakeholders to be selected as the 2020-21 Michigan Teacher of the Year.
For Schram, the regional application process — which included crafting eight personal essays on topics ranging from teaching philosophy to best teaching practices — provided a platform for her voice to be heard.
“I think the most intense part was not knowing how my feelings would be perceived,” Schram said. “One of the special things about teaching is it’s a very personal career. Every decision that we make, we’re putting our personality out there, we’re putting our beliefs out there and you don’t always know how that’s going to be received by other people so, you know, 16 pages of everything that’s going on in my head and my heart, and not knowing how that’s going to be received, that’s pretty intimidating.”
Morrice Elementary Principal Kelly Roe said she’s thrilled Schram has received recognition from the state for her efforts in education, and believes she is a strong Teacher of the Year candidate.
“Chelsee began her teaching career in Lansing and when she accepted a position with us, it was evident early on that her passion for kids, and education, is what drives her to provide the very best opportunities and classroom culture for her kids,” Roe said. “I believe she is a great example of a teacher who goes above and beyond to bring opportunities to our kids.”
Roe added that what sets Schram apart is her drive to facilitate opportunities, not only for the kids her own classroom, but building-wide;
“Funding in rural districts can be challenging due to the tax-base, and she makes the time to locate grants, and work with agencies who can assist in providing funding partnerships,” Roe said. “An example is bringing a week-long nature lesson experience at Harris Nature Center to our second graders. She initiated the Salmon in The Classroom project we were able to bring to the school this year, and was the organizer of several family activity nights here including Deer Camp, and a Math Carnival.”
Together, Michigan’s Regional Teachers of the Year comprise the Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council (MTLAC), which works directly with the MDE to provide input on proposed policies and initiatives.
Schram said what she hopes to bring to the position is a deep understanding of the unique “rural-urban interface” that lies in Mid-Michigan.
“I’ve taught in both settings and I grew up on the east side of Detroit, so I feel like I have a diverse understanding of the different educational systems and what the different types of schools need,” Schram said. “I’m really excited to bring that to the table and make sure that my entire region, not the just the large school districts, but the entire region, their voice is heard. Especially with all the stuff that’s going on with COVID-19, we’re going to really have to be innovative with how we’re solving some of these problems and we have to have an understanding of the different schools and what they need because what we do for Lansing’s schools, we can’t do the same thing for Morrice, it just doesn’t work.”
As for what Schram most enjoys about teaching:
“Just getting to know each child at such an individual level and being able to help every single child in my classroom and help move them forward socially, emotionally, academically,” she said. “I just really appreciate that about teaching, where I can actually make an impact on an entire child’s life.”