This story first appeared in the spring 2020 issue of the Arbor Light, the official magazine of Concordia University Ann Arbor.
The first 15 minutes of the school day are MacKenzie Drinan’s (’17) favorite part of the day. As her middle schoolers arrive each morning, settle into their seats, and get situated for another day of learning, Drinan has the chance to catch up on her young pupils’ lives.
“Are those new shoes?” “What’d you do last night?” “Are you feeling better?”
The conversation prompts might appear trivial on the surface. In fact, the questions aren’t what’s important; it’s the fact that Drinan truly cares about the answers.
“I had no idea I would love these kids so much,” said Drinan, who first had the revelation during her student teaching semester. “You feel a responsibility for the students, for their growth. Because you know them so well you see their hurts and strengths, and that makes you love them even more, which in turn makes you want to get to know them more.”
Drinan has served as a middle school English teacher at Our Savior Lutheran School in Lansing, Michigan, since she graduated from Concordia University Ann Arbor in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and language arts.
Throughout the country, there are fewer and fewer individuals like Drinan. Enrollment in teacher-prep programs in colleges and universities nationwide has been declining for years. In Michigan alone, enrollment decreased by 66 percent between 2009 and 2016, according to a February 2019 study by Citizens Research Council of Michigan. Similar numbers reflect throughout the country.
Multiple factors play a role in this decline. One thing is clear: Classrooms need qualified teachers to care for the next generation of leaders.
“Teaching is a very noble and rewarding profession. Most people can look back and attest that at least one teacher had a positive impact on them,” said CUAA School of Education Campus Dean Dr. Sandra Harris. “It’s also a very demanding profession. Because of this, it’s important for educators to recognize the profession is more than just a career; it’s a calling.”
Even early in her career, Drinan is feeling some of those rewards.
“Teaching is the most meaningful thing that I could imagine myself doing, and I get to do it every day. It’s a blessing, and it’s so cool to watch my students grow,” said Drinan.
Drinan particularly enjoys integrating her passions with her daily lessons. As an English teacher who loves to read, she tracks all of the books read by the middle schoolers. In the first semester, the students read 1,000 books, averaging 21 books per student. The goal for the end of the school year is 2,000, averaging 42 books per students.
“We are reading tons, we are reading all the time. It’s important because the more we read the better we get at it. We improve fluency, write better, and understand more,” said Drinan. “Reading teaches lessons that combat our culture of instant gratification and quick input. They have to work for it. I want them all to be lifelong readers.”
As a worship leader during her time at Concordia, Drinan continues to share her love for guitar by teaching individual lessons every day after school. She also started a worship club that helps lead the school’s morning devotions.
Drinan didn’t necessarily expect that she would be a middle school teacher, but then God made it clear that’s where He wanted her. She said she remembers reading a study that most people hold on the faith that they have as a 14-year-old.
“I said to myself, ‘That’s it. That’s the time.’ I knew that middle school was a prime age for faith growth, and I wanted to be a part of it. I also figured that I was patient enough for the quirks of that age, and so far I’ve endured them.”
Drinan said that she was inspired to become a teacher because it allows her to be with the same kids every day, building connections with them and telling them about Jesus.
“My students have bad days, and so do I. Because we know each other and trust each other, we can forget the bad. God gives us grace, and we try to give each other grace, too,” said Drinan. “God placed these kids in my life, in my room, for a purpose.”
—The spring 2020 Arbor Light hit mailboxes the beginning of October. View a PDF version of the magazine here. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, email Jennifer.Hackmann@cuaa.edu.
— Rachel (Ferry) Thoms is manager of campus communications for Concordia University Ann Arbor. She may be reached at email@example.com or 734-995-7403.
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