Ankeny native Michelle Varnum feels blessed to be back in her home town teaching second grade at Terrace Elementary.
After graduating from Ankeny High School in 2007, Varnum went on to get her teaching education from ISU, graduating in 2010.
“Since second grade, I’ve never had any other career path in mind. I always wanted to be a teacher,” she explains. Varnum is currently working towards her master’s degree from Drake University.
Varnum began her career at Southeast Polk’s Willowbrook Elementary teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and Talented and Gifted for a year before coming to Ankeny this past year.
Her background in ESL has helped Varnum in her role at Terrace, as it is the south feeder school for the ESL program. In her classroom alone, she has nine ESL students.
“A lot of people don’t realize that there are so many students who do not speak English as a first language in our district. Ankeny really is diverse, and we’re getting more diverse every day,” she says.
Varnum prides herself in her ability to get to know her students beyond just teaching.
“I love forming the relationship with them when they walk in the door,” she says. “We talk about everyone’s life outside of school; their parents, siblings, pets and hobbies. It makes it feel like we are our own little family, because we all know each other so well. I let them know that the friendships they make here can last forever if they work hard at those friendships.”
While typically Varnum considers herself a very shy person, when she is in her classroom with her students, she is not shy at all.
“I’m not afraid to be goofy in front of my students,” she says. “I like to tie silliness into my lessons to get the kids involved. They think it’s the funniest thing ever, and they really respond to it.”
With two years of teaching under her belt, Varnum understands there are going to be rough days with teaching, and she has to give herself credit for the good things each day, no matter how small.
“Every student succeeds every day. Even when it seems like it’s been a difficult day, I know that at some point today, I’ve made a difference in at least one child’s life,” she shares. “I love helping students be proud of themselves. It’s so rewarding.”