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Richards receives excellence award

By Ben Rodgers

SUAMICO – Bay Port’s Amy Richards has been formally recognized as the best in Wisconsin at what she does, but she’s quick to put the credit elsewhere.

Earlier this spring, Richards received the English High School Teacher of Excellence award from the Wisconsin Council of Teachers.

She will receive the honor along with other state honorees at the National Council of Teachers of English convention in Houston this November.

“It’s humbling, but my department is incredible. So everything I do in my courses is a team creation by the course teams,” Richards said. “It feels nice to be acknowledged, but it’s not an isolated effort. I’ve got great people with me.”

In her 11th year at the high school, Richards teaches senior IB English, literary analysis and writing.

It’s a mix of elective courses with senior students earning college credit and underclassmen taking required courses, which is the perfect blend for her.

“Otherwise you get too much in one realm and you forget the other realm is there,” she said. “I think if I were always with students who were resistant, I personally might feel like all students were disenfranchised, or if I was always with the highest performing, I think I’d forget about the progression it takes to get to that spot.”

Amy Richards, Bay Port High School English language arts teacher, recently received the English High School Teacher of Excellence award from the Wisconsin Council of Teachers. Ben Rodgers Photo

When learning the curriculum for IB English, Richards learned that students who parroted the course material weren’t learning the right way. She needed students to come up with their own thoughts and opinions.

“At that point it was a catalyst to all my classes to realize I don’t want them to regurgitate my own ideas, I want them to develop and support their own ideas,” Richards said.

This award is a long ways from when she was a child and already exhibiting traits of a teacher.

“In kindergarten my teacher told my parents that I needed to work on my social skills because I’d go around the playground and assign everyone what they were going to do,” she said.

When Richards grew up a bit and was enrolled at St. Norbert College, teaching was in the back of her mind. But she wanted to be a lawyer in a big city, not a teacher in a Green Bay area classroom.

In the end, English won out and Richards has been at the district she first applied to for over a decade.

“Instead of having my task be the center of my profession, I’m able to help students creatively, critically and analytically prepare for their own tasks,” she said. “I think it’s humbling and it’s more effective.”

For her IB English course Richards already has students engaged with that teaching model. She said that’s due to fellow English teacher Vicki Quinn, who has those students as juniors during the first year of the two-year class.

“We tease that they probably perceive us as not knowing anything, because we’re always asking questions,” she said.
In the required writing course her students are given a stricter curriculum which looks at different writing styles.

But to engage them, students pick their own topics. Richards by her own admission is nearly an expert in the video game Fortnite, despite, never having picked up a controller.

By the end of the semester she said she sees students more confident in their writing abilities or at least less reluctant to try the craft.

The growth she sees in her students makes Richards realize she picked the right path in college.

“With all respect to lawyers, I think this is the most challenging thing I could find myself doing each day, in that we’re trying to grow ideas in our students that aren’t necessarily our own and that we’re trying to guide them through a process without giving all the exact steps that might be best for them,” she said.

In life Richards said she wouldn’t be where she is today without the support of her family, her husband Lucas, her son Cale, 5, her daughter Evelyn, 3, her mom Leah Heusterberg and her late father Wayne Heusterberg.

“Part of being a teacher is performing, because you’re on the stage and maintaining an environment for these learners, but I would say my family supports me the person, fully and lovingly, without conditions,” she said.

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