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Teacher Feature: The Power of Student Voice

Feb. 14, 2017

As a student who struggled in school and had challenges at home that impacted her confidence, Alison Arams found a creative outlet through theater.

“Theater is a space where you get to be your true self, make things happen and be successful,” she said.

Arams is in her second year teaching drama at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College. According to her, she always wanted to teach.

“I remember having an amazing first-grade teacher and that helped me realize teaching was something I wanted to do.”

Arams is excited that she has been able to combine two things she loves — theater and teaching — into a fulfilling career.

“I dealt with my own hardship by bringing others together and bringing them happiness,” she said. “Through theater and teaching, I have the ability to be a leader and create a positive space for others.”

Contributing to that positive space is the culture at MLK, a school serving grades 6 to 12 in Far Northeast Denver.

“This is a special place where there is a real sense of family,” expressed Arams. “The teachers here care so much about the kids, we have fun with our students and maintain good relationships with them. There are a lot of mentoring relationships that have been established between the teachers and students.”

“Kids need to know they matter and that they have a voice,” she added.

Arams recognizes having strong relationships with students as critical to the teaching process. For her, the student perception survey has been a really valuable tool in helping identify areas where she can better connect with her students.

“At the end of the day, kids need to be able to trust their teachers, know they matter and that they have a voice,” she said.

The is administered once per year in the fall to students in grades 3 through 12, and is one of the multiple measures used in the LEAP growth and performance system to determine a teacher’s effectiveness.

Last year, Arams examined her results to look for trends or things that surprised her and then wrote a reflection. One of the things she recalled was, “my English language learner (ELL) students said the class what not challenging enough, while my non-ELL students said it was too challenging — that was perplexing to me, but it helped me adjust my instruction and try to better differentiate my lessons.”

Her students are currently working on a production of a modern-day retelling of the Wizard of Oz.

“It is important to give kids a chance to voice those things that are important to them and experience what they can relate to,” she said. “We talk about our DPS Shared Core Value of Students First and what it’s about.”

When she is not teaching, Arams finds other avenues of fulfillment. She lived in rural Tanzania for a year and has spent the last several summers there as part of the World Teacher program. In the area where she works, there are severe hunger issues. Working with a board of parents and teachers, Arams has helped design an agricultural model for breakfast and lunch in a local school that includes a sustainable maize farm. She intends to return this summer to help plan for and raise needed funding for a sesame crop.

Arams loves spending her time doing things she finds meaningful, whether teaching here or abroad.

“MLK is special. From the kids to the teachers, we maintain strong relationships and really support each other. We feel like a family and that’s what keeps you going,” she concluded.