Class Acts: Megan Peterson, Central Catholic High School

Claire LePoullouin nominated Megan Petersen for Class Acts. LePoullouin said Petersen has an exceptional teaching style and a love for students that she has never seen demonstrated by another teacher. Peters is always open to students and what they are going through and spends countless hours planning things for her classroom to make the learning experience fun and memorable, LePoullouin added.

Name: Megan Petersen

Age: 30

City of residence: Atwater

Occupation: Sophomore English teacher

Family: Fantastic parents and my lovable dog, Zoe

Education background: A bachelor's of fine arts in writing, literature and publishing from Emerson College

Teaching experience: Two years at Merced College and the past four years at Central Catholic High School

Why did you get into teaching? I got into teaching a bit by accident. I was in a master's program getting a degree in writing for children and young adults and I needed a job that would work with my school schedule. I was hired part time at Merced College, and while I was there I realized I really enjoyed teaching and that I was actually good at it, so I found a permanent teaching position at Central Catholic High School to help students become better writers and readers before they go to college.

What is your favorite part about being a teacher? My favorite part about teaching is watching a student start the year in my class not liking English or reading and then finding a way to spark their interest, so all of a sudden they are excited to read and share their thoughts on whatever book they are reading. That makes this job very rewarding and worthwhile.

What is the most challenging part of your job? I think the most challenging part of the job is getting students to care about their grades more than I do. Many times they just feel it is too hard and therefore they may as well not even try, so it takes effort on my part to encourage and cheer them on to believe in themselves and their abilities.

What is the most important lesson you've learned? I am the one in control of the classroom and I set the tone for the day. If I come to class excited and upbeat, then the students will feed off of that energy and will be inspired to keep up that pace. But if I come in tired or out of sorts, it sets an entirely different tone for the day.

What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? My classroom ELMO and wireless technology that allows me to incorporate Internet videos and PowerPoints into my curriculum to help reach both audio and visual learners. I am very grateful to the school and the parents who have worked hard to make sure that this advanced technology is available to us in the classrooms.

What's next in your classroom? All incoming sophomores are beginning to work on their summer reading assignments, which we begin discussing and working with when they return in August. For college prep, they are reading "Alas, Babylon," keeping a reader's journal, and writing a creative journal imagining if their town was destroyed by a nuclear attack and how they would survive.

What advice do you have for students? They need to be responsible and accountable for their grades. They need to realize that they need to do well for themselves so they can go on to college and achieve their goals. They need to take responsibility for doing well and for doing poorly, and not try to look for someone or something to blame for doing poorly.

What advice do you have for parents? Be an active participant in their child's education. Parents should ask their child what they are working on in school and have discussions about the lessons and work. They should spend time checking their homework and projects, making sure that their child is studying and staying on top of their schoolwork. Now is an important time to be a parent and not try to be their friend.

What will it take to improve academic success in the valley? A good place to start to improve academics would be to not cut good teachers who give everything to reach their students, and programs like art and music that give students who may not excel in academics a chance to shine somewhere else. Education needs to be a priority in our state and money needs to be added to the schools, not seen as a place where we can cut budgets and save.

How do you to reach students not interested in school? Try to find something that they are interested in and then connect that back to my class in some way, or use that interest to connect to the students on a personal level so they know I care about them and want them to do well. Many times it is as simple as finding out they like -- a certain sport or type of music -- and then recommending books about those particular subjects for them to read.

What one area should schools put more emphasis on? I think more emphasis should be placed on how a school performs overall and not an emphasis on how a school scores on state testing. A school's success should not be based on how well or how poorly students can fill in bubbles. Many students do not take testing very seriously and fill in wrong answers on purpose. A school's merit should not be based on tests of that nature. We need to find better and more effective ways to measure a school's ability to teach its students.

If you could change one thing about the current educational system, what would it be and why? Give teachers more freedom to teach their curriculum in a manner that best fits the dynamics of their classroom instead of forcing them to teach out of a state-mandated book.

What would surprise people about your job? I think when most people think about teaching in general as a job, they think about the amount of work it requires and the lack of pay that goes along with it. But most people would not realize what an absolutely fun and rewarding job it is every day. I love teaching and have such a great time doing it. Teenagers find such joy in small things and it really makes you appreciate the small things in life too.

What are your future plans? I plan on continuing to work here at Central Catholic, a school and community that I love working for and getting to be a part of, and continuing to be as involved with the school and the students as I can be.