As shared with Yolanda White
JoAnne Pollard-Williamson teaches at her Alma Mater, University School of Milwaukee. Third graders bear witness to her breadth and depth of knowledge. Surely, they don’t know it though. Her teenaged children describe as energetic, caring, persistent and mean.
“They “mean” that in the best way….I am strict but they know how much I love them,” Williamson said.
With much to manage, execute, learn and do; “Now” is the right time, for much, as she sees it.
Tell a little about what is exciting about you, to you.
I am having a great life with my family. You always think as a child that there is a “happily every after” but for most people, that doesn’t happen. I live a good life with my husband, Ronald and my two wonderful children Bennett (17) and Olivia (13). I have a great relationship with my parents. They still tell me when I am doing something “wrong” but that’s okay. I am also grateful for my siblings.
How did you begin teaching? Or when did you know you were a teacher?
Teaching was not my first career, but it should have been. I was the child that always took care of the little children and babies.
I worked six years in the medical field as a registered record administrator. My management skills were lacking back then and that career ended. I came to a time in my life that I needed to do something that I wanted to do instead of what others wanted me to do, so I went back to college and got my Kindergarten/First Grade Teaching certification and a Master’s Degree in professional development.
I started teaching in January 1990 at Trowbridge Elementary School of Discovery and Technology. My first semester was not the best. It was in a K4-5 classroom. They had lost their teacher and I was the replacement. Some of the kids were just not having it. I cried every night because I could not figure out what to do to get them to listen and learn. My first principal, Sallie Brown, was not thrilled with me at first. We grew on each other.
That summer I took a course called “Beyond Assertive Discipline” and that changed everything. I went into the next school year armed with many tools to get my job done effectively. Twenty years later, I still use many of the lessons that I learned in that class my first summer. My current principal, Caroyln Lengh, has been a great supporter of mine. She listens and lets me figure out the solution to my issues.
What exactly is unique about your teaching and classroom management style?
Now that I am teaching third grade, my sense of humor and sarcasm go a long way! The children in my class understand that I have expectations about their behavior and work. I love them and they know it. Everyday, at the end of the day, no matter what has happened, I hug; give a handshake or a high five, letting them know that the day is done. Tomorrow is a new day.
I am not the most creative teacher but my children have fun learning. I work in an environment where we are encouraged to try new things. I tried many things that don’t always work, but I learn how to do other things better.
What do you know now, that had you wished you’d known then?
How to laugh at myself. Life is serious, but not that serious.
Summarize your philosophy of life or living, in one sentence.
Laugh out aloud and laugh often!
When did you realize that you were on purpose?
I realized that when I knew that I was happy. I also knew when I got letters from my students, current and former, telling me how I affected their lives, and when I get hugs from former students.
Describe how you prepared for your career?
I received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Medical Record Administration from Clark College. I have a reading license and K-3 certification from Cardinal Stritch University. I also have a MEpD. from Cardinal Stritch University, with an emphasis on reading and language arts. My father always jokes, that it wasn’t until I was paying for my own degree did I get stellar grades! I tell my class all the time, that I was not the best math student when I was younger. I just kept working at it and getting help from teachers and tutors whenever necessary.
What discussions/topics do you find yourself avoiding, at parties or gatherings?
Education! I am passionate about what I do but some folks just want to bash teachers. I wonder where they think they would be without a teacher. I am also tired to hearing that “teachers have it made;” out by 3:00pm and summers off.
My first year I never left the building before 6 p.m. and I worked over the summer. Now I still stay late at school for many committee meetings but when I don’t have a meeting I try to get out by 4 p.m. I still take work home, much to the dismay of my husband.
I work one week out of the summer, teaching a graduate class through McPherson College Milwaukee Center. I am also available for tutoring in the summer.
For the last two years, my third grade colleagues and I have taken trips to help deepen the curriculum that we deliver to the children. Two years ago we went to Boston and Plymouth Plantation to get more information for the Pilgrim Simulation that we do in the fall. Last summer we went to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to get information about the Space unit that we teach in the winter. I know that I am always looking to make what I do better.
What has been the most exciting time of your life?
This time in my life because, I love my husband more than ever; I can have wonderful and intelligent conversations with my teenage children; I still have the opportunity to continue to learn from my parents and watch what they do for the community; and I am good friends with my siblings and their spouses.
Do you feel that you have to work “harder” than white professional women? How much harder do you feel that you have to work to “prove” yourself (if you do)? Or, why was it easier for you to find your niche in this city, because of the hue God gave you?
I feel sometimes I have to work harder. I am not sure why, but it just could be because I am so hard on myself. I love who God made me. Sure there are times when I would want to change this or that, but for the most part, it is all good.
What is Wisconsin missing? Or what does Wisconsin have that no other state is in possession of?
With the unemployment rate where it is, there should be an adult volunteer in every classroom, helping our children succeed. I also feel that there should be more parent centers; helping families (no matter what they look like) become better for the future.
If we could get every family to spent 10 -15 minutes a day, reading and talking to the children in their household, the difference would be far reaching. Books are free at the library. You can get books from other programs for free. It would increase the child’s vocabulary – increase the child’s attention span. That would be so great.
As an African-American leader, she is a mother – persistent, skilled, educated and alive. Too, she is a bit of a reluctant leader, who’d rather not bask in any light at all. The light, she’d rather be shone on her third graders, who understand they are being fueled by one of this communities finest. One who broadens the definition of community, owns the word family and takes pride in her husband – still.
JoAnne Pollard Williamson truly is someone worth getting to know.
As shared with Yolanda D. White