By Erica Moore
Communications Director Weakley County Schools
If you ask students who attend Westview High School to name a teacher who is creative and supportive, Jennifer Wenz is certain to top the list. Her artistic spirit, understanding nature, and the support she offers each day provides her students with the space to create with originality, authenticity, and confidence. This year, she was selected by her peers as Westview High School’s 2023-2024 Teacher of the Year.
Wenz shares her ideas on technology in the classroom, student engagement, and how she helps students stay motivated.
- How do you motivate students?
“Motivating students come easy when you provide content that they not only enjoy, but that relates to their lives. The students sitting in my classroom are used to having technology in their lives on a daily basis. Trying to make technology disappear is not the answer but incorporating it into the curriculum – where it not only becomes a learning tool, but an asset to your teaching abilities is key. Teaching students to use their technology to enhance their learning is essential to a successful classroom. One way in which we use our technology in the classroom is by showing the students that their imaginations are not limited merely to their artistic abilities but also to their creative imaginations. So, if they can come up with the idea, we have programs that will help them successfully bring those ideas to life no matter their artistic abilities in this classroom.”
- How has technology changed the way you teach?
“Technology has very much changed the way I teach. Technology has given me the opportunity to show the students that there is so much more to their creative abilities when you add technology to their toolbox. The implementation of technology also creates pathways for differentiated instruction to meet the unique needs of students as individual learners with broader access to materials that once were to costly to have. With the Charger Foundation’s help, we have been able to bring the ability for a student to start with just an idea and bring their imagination to life with the help of a CO2 laser machine. We have also acquired the ability to give students access to a 3D printer and a CNC machine when they have creative endeavors that are ready to go beyond paper. We can prepare for industry and for self-employment before the students even leave the walls of high school.”
- What role do you believe diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives should play in your classroom and in the school?
“Diversity is something that allows new ideas to be developed. Being in a classroom where you are not just with your same grade level peers but must also interact with other students that may be older or younger gives the students a more diverse education. The students bring so many different ideas and experiences to the table that the diversity helps foster and atmosphere of not only creativity, but unity in the art class. Art is something that has no boundaries and is the world’s way of recording time when modern technologies didn’t exist.”
- What are some methods you use to check for understanding as you’re teaching?
“When it comes to art the one thing my students learn very quickly is that art is open to interruption and what they intended for the viewer to see isn’t always what the end result turns out to be. Art is never finished but in order for each of my students to feel successful they have set their own goals for the projects presented and have created their own checklist for things that they have to have in order to feel both accomplished and proud of their work. I try my best to teach the students that if they sit and think about the project before searching for ideas on the internet, they will always feel more successful in the end. When they start with a piece of art already finished, they have set out to master something that may have taken an artist years to achieve. It can give them the feeling of failure before they ever put the first pencil stroke to the paper. To be successful, students must understand that every idea has not been developed and not everything has been discovered. What makes the student successful is feeling accomplished in their finished product.”
- How do you engage reluctant learners?
” ‘Reluctancy’ is the word of the day in the art room. How do you take a student who has convinced themselves that they cannot draw or that they aren’t creative to believe in themselves enough to make the first mark? I strive from day one for each student to only compare themselves to the goals they have set for themselves on day one. Starting with the idea and letting it grow from there is the key to being successful and not worrying about what others think is the mindset you must make each student believe in.”
- What characteristics do you think students want their teachers to possess?
“I think the most important characteristic that students want their teachers to have is a love for what they do. I have always promised my students that I am here because I love teaching and I love watching the ah-ha moment happen when they are successful. I think for a student to feel that the teacher truly loves what they do is what motivates them to be more apt to participate and to do their best in the classroom. The other characteristics that I know are important is to feel safe, to feel respected and most of all to feel that they have a voice in the classroom.”
- What do you do for fun? Do you have hobbies?
“I am the mom to two wonderful boys that are my world. I am the mom to a very special angel who is in heaven and has given me the gift of seeing the world totally differently than I once did. I know what the gift of kindness looks like and since her diagnosis and death, we have made it our mission as a family to make sure we give it back as often as we can and thus run a foundation in her honor that allows us to keep our promise. In our spare time, though, we are a very outdoorsy family and enjoy gardening, camping, and just being outside.”
Congratulations and thanks to Mrs. Jennifer Wenz for your work in engaging, supporting, and challenging Weakley County students to achieve educational success.