Waunakee High School students in Jennifer “Jen” Doucette’s writing classes may a different experience than in other classes.
Unlike other teachers, Doucette focuses her instruction more on the students’ ability to meet each writing assignment’s expectations than a grade.
“I don’t believe learning is synonymous with grades,” Doucette said. “I want them to focus on learning and not on grades.”
Perhaps it was Doucette’s unique instructional style – one that concentrates on the process more than the end result – that led her former student to nominate her for a Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Teacher Fellowship. Doucette will receive the honor March 24 during a luncheon at Sun Prairie High School.
Doucette is one of 100 Wisconsin teachers recognized this year for their “superior ability to inspire a love of learning in their students, their ability to motivate others, and their leadership and service within and outside the classroom,” according to a release from the Educational Foundation.
She said she became interested in teaching as a young child, playing with chalkboards in her family’s play room. Her mother, father and grandfather were all teachers, and she remembers as a young girl, feeling as though she had two career choices – teaching or nursing.
“And blood scared me,” she said.
She knew she wanted to teach high school students because she liked their maturity. Doucette began teaching composition at Waunakee High School 13 years ago after the third year in her career. She then had the opportunity to teach advanced composition and later developed a creative writing class.
“I saw an opportunity for high school students to begin writing at a different level,” she said.
Doucette believes teachers have to build relationships with their students.
“Students will work when they feel respected. They have to trust us as much as we trust them. I work hard to get to know my students because I want to,” she said.
She spends time in individual conferences with students about their writing, mainly listening and asking questions, she said. Her goal is to help them think like writers and make the choices writers make.
“To create a culture that inspires learning, I listen. In conferences, whoever talks more is learning more,” she said.
As time goes on, her students say they can hear her voice as they’re writing papers.
Doucette is also part of the Greater Madison Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project. Teachers of all disciplines come together to research and share how they teach writing.
“They are my professional community,” she said. “That’s where I did my research on assessment. It changed my whole classroom.”
Her students’ essays and stories offer her a window into their souls, she said.
“I get to know their best moments, their nightmares and dreams, sometimes through the characters and sometimes through personal essays,” Doucette said, adding she feels privileged to do so.
She also appreciates working for a school district that allows her to implement such a non-traditional grading practice.
“I feel blessed and grateful that I teach here. I don’t think that I would have been supported everywhere,” Doucette said.
Teacher Fellow recipients receive a $6,000 stipend, and Doucette said she plans to spend it on travel, to take care of herself in order to be a better teacher, though she admits she feels greedy using the funds in such a way.
“I’m going to treat it as a true bonus,” she added.