By Sue Moore
“Humble” is often used to describe Laura Chang, second grade teacher at Sunset Lake Elementary school. After the state of Michigan sent representatives to present her with the Michigan Teacher of the Year award, she seemed blown away by the accolades.
“No one deserves it more,” said Pat Moreno, her former principal at the school. “She was born to teach. She taught me so much during our years together that I have been able to share with other young teachers coming into the school district.”
“She just has a way about her,” said Shannon Richards, whose child was in her classroom several years ago. “She’s special. The kids feel very safe around her. She has their respect, she is kind and soft-spoken. She cares about the kids and their families too. We are like her extended family.”
There are thousands of great teachers in the state of Michigan. How did Laura Chang get singled out? This award has been given to a teacher in Michigan since 1952. That person is nominated to represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year recognition.
Sunset Lake Principal Amie McCaw decided it was time to nominate Chang because of the impact she has had beyond the classroom door. “She serves others through her leadership on teams for Sunset Lake, Sunset PTSO, Vicksburg Community Schools, Western Michigan University and also at the state level for the Michigan Department of Education. Laura is a visionary in education and she serves others, all with such grace.”
There were 850 nominees statewide. A committee of educators narrowed the list down to 10 finalists, one from each region in the state. Chang was selected from the southwest area. All 10 were interviewed in Lansing in a round of presentations and a Q & A session.
Chang also prepared a video that described her philosophy of teaching. “Her enthusiasm, energy, her words kind of wrapped around us,” said Pamela Harlin, director of the MEEMIC Foundation, who was on the selection committee.
Sheila Alles, interim superintendent of education for the state, came to Sunset Lake school on May 18 to announce to the students and faculty that Chang had won the award.
“Chang was inspired by her dad, who was a teacher. She cares deeply about her students that they reach their highest potential. She is admired by her colleagues. Now she will be on a trajectory for a whole year of talking to legislators in Lansing and in Congress. She will sit in on state board of education meetings where she will be asked for her advice on the many education issues that come before the board.”
Chang, a WMU graduate, has been teaching in Vicksburg for 18 years. “I feel so supported here,” she said. “It’s a team. We are sharing students more across the whole spectrum of learning. Our building has nearly doubled in size since I started here. It’s alive, thriving, exciting and fast-paced. It’s a thrill that so many families want to move to Vicksburg.”
The Chang family lives near Tobey Elementary school with their children, Cassie, 12, and Andrew, 8, both involved in school activities. Her husband is in technology with a company in Kalamazoo. Besides volunteering in both children’s activities, Chang teaches at WMU online and on campus in the literacy studies department.
She credits the parents of the children in her classroom. “They are amazing and supportive on field trips, volunteering to read and taking part in math activities. If families want to volunteer but are unable to come during the school day, I often send work for them to complete at home. When parents are engaged, then students are engaged.”
There are three main teaching fundamentals Chang uses and actually carries around on her phone if a reminder is needed: 1. Kind, contributing members of a community 2. Passionate for learning throughout their lives 3. Empowered to stand up for one another.
“What children learn here will have an impact all their life. Learning is never done. I want the kids to be curious. These take practice every day.”
Chang said, “I’m just an ordinary second grade teacher and happy to represent the voice of our region elsewhere. It’s important to look at the whole child’s needs. We are not just making sprockets here!”