Position: English Language Arts 11/12 Teacher
School: Stevenson High School
School District: Utica Community Schools
City, State: Sterling Heights, Michigan
About the Nominee: Often by their very nature, teachers are LifeChangers in the communities they serve. Annette Christiansen, however, exemplifies what it means to be an exceptional teacher and has been a LifeChanger to her students. She makes her English courses dynamic and interactive by carefully selecting materials of interest to her students. She drives students to excel both academically and personally. Through the use of philosophical questions, thought-provoking material and a safe classroom environment, Ms. Christiansen encourages students to explore their passions and their positions on a variety of socio-political topics. She encourages students to learn from each other and to become more tolerant, understanding and open-minded about those who are different. She is willing to share personal triumphs and tragedies, and has been the source of strength to many students during difficult personal experiences. Many students report through various sounding boards and polls that she is the teacher who has influenced them the most. Last year, a series of car accidents took the lives of four students at Stevenson High School, as well as a student at a neighboring school who was the friend of Ms. Christiansen's daughter. Despite her own grief, Ms. Christiansen and a group of other teachers from a committee she had formed the month before created a fund raising project. This project provided financial support to the families of all students lost in the district last year (there were 7). It also supported a local DARE program in the hopes that tragedies of this nature do not happen again. Ms. Christiansen was able to help students through their own grief during these difficult days through a rare blend of strength and empathy. She helped a student write the eulogy for his best friend, a task no one can prepare for.
Many former students return for visits or keep in touch via social media to thank Ms. Christiansen for her devotion to her profession. Many of them are so inspired by her that they become teachers themselves. She has helped multiple students - many whom aren't on her roster - improve ACT scores and write college entrance essays that ultimately help them attend their dream college or accept an athletic scholarship.
Being a member of the community herself, Ms. Christiansen has been a constant presence in athletic and artistic endeavors and has been asked to escort a student who was on the homecoming court when their own parents could not attend. Her dedication to the profession and her view that each student who passes through her classroom is her responsibility makes her able to fill many roles simultaneously. She is mother, coach, friend, confidant, advocate, drill sergeant, instructor and any other role needed for each student as he or she strives to accomplish personal goals. Ms. Christiansen exemplifies everything that makes a teacher such a valued member of the community.