Meet Ms. Howard, Payton’s new English teacher

By Griffin Bonnin Jones, Contributor

Ms. Howard made the transition from substitute to permanent member of Payton’s English Department in 2021

The Paw Print: How long have you been teaching?

Ms. Howard: I started in the spring of 2021, but this is my first full year.

The Paw Print: Where did you begin teaching?

Ms. Howard: I started teaching here at Payton as a substitute, but I only had a few remote shifts. I was lucky enough to take over for an English teacher who went on maternity leave in March.

The Paw Print: What drew you to teaching?

Ms. Howard: I’d been doing mundane work in corporate-client services, and I realized I was letting time pass me by without sinking my teeth into life. I’d always wanted to teach and I decided to stop putting it off, move to Chicago, and try to be a high school English teacher. I wanted to combine my passion for working with youths with my passion for reading. My dad was an English professor when he was younger, so I grew up with Shakespeare and poetry, and I’ve always had a connection to literature and language. That’s why I knew I wanted to be in an English classroom where we’d get to explore books together and talk about how it changes the way we see and move through the world.

The Paw Print: Is there a particular book that you’re looking forward to teaching this year?

Ms. Howard: I’m looking forward to introducing a variety of texts in my English II class. We’re starting with Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, a real page turner. We’re only a couple chapters in, but students are already really invested in the story. I’m also teaching A Raisin in the Sun for a drama section, and with my background in theater, I’m pretty excited to jump into that play.

The Paw Print: What drew you to Payton?

Ms. Howard: I observed Ms. Parlor’s and Ms. Spooner’s classes in 2019, and I could feel a palpable buzz of excitement in the building. The drive of both the students and the teachers made it feel like a very rigorous and exciting environment. I thought I’d be incredibly lucky if I ever got to teach here, so it was quite serendipitous to be offered the temporary position right out of school.

The Paw Print: What impact do you hope to have at Payton?

Ms. Howard: I hope to model the necessity of being present and a willingness to take risks and make mistakes, because that’s where my own greatest growth has come from. And I hope to be a small part of students exceeding their expectations and reaching their full potential.

The Paw Print: What do you think are the best ways for students to use the things they learn in your class in their lives, both now and after leaving school?

Ms. Howard: I teach three different classes right now. Looking at AP Lang, I hope the work we do this year gives them the confidence to share their ideas and to make an argument others will listen to. I’ve told my students that whether they’re going into STEM or English, it doesn’t matter how good their ideas are if they can’t communicate them effectively. In Asian American literature, we’re taking a deep dive into a variety of writers and perspectives. My hope is they’ll be able to see the world through new lenses, and for that to impact the way they interact with others, particularly people who don’t share their experience. Ultimately with English, I think empathy is the big takeaway, because reading shows us the common humanity we share with people who are different from us.

The Paw Print: What do you think are the most important challenges students will face when they leave high school, and how do you prepare students for those challenges?

Ms. Howard: I think the biggest challenge students face leaving high school is disappointment. College, and life after high school in general, bring a lot of new experiences, and sometimes the nitty gritty of what students learned in high school doesn’t always seem applicable in those situations. So, beyond teaching the content and English literature, I hope to encourage them to take risks and know that mistakes are just temporary, and they’re an opportunity to grow and to keep going when you feel discouraged.

The Paw Print: How are you trying to promote equity in the classroom and make sure every student has their needs met?

Ms. Howard: I had some autonomy over the books I teach this year in English II, so I’m trying to draw from a variety of authors with different experiences and backgrounds. One reason for that is so that even if students don’t connect on a personal level with every book, they at least find something they can see themselves in this year. In Asian American lit, Ms. Spooner has worked very hard to develop a curriculum that features a wide range of authors. We’ll be reading Chinese American, Japanese American, Korean American, Filipino writers and more. I think it’s important that students get a diverse pool of reading, so we’re trying to step away from Shakespeare, let’s say, and toward Lorraine Hansberry.

The Paw Print: What’s your favorite color?

Ms. Howard: My favorite color is blue, because I love the ocean.

The Paw Print: What about your favorite food?

Ms. Howard: The spaghetti and meatballs my nana from Sicily used to make.

The Paw Print: What’s your favorite song?

Ms. Howard: I don’t know that it’s my favorite song, but I love Sunshine on My Shoulder by John Denver.

The Paw Print: Favorite book?

Ms. Howard: River Runs Through It by Norman MacLean.

The Paw Print: Favorite poet?

Ms. Howard: I really like Emily Dickinson.

The Paw Print: Favorite thing to do in Chicago?

Ms. Howard: I love going to the Art Institute and hanging out in the Impressionist wing.

The Paw Print: Is there a particular Impressionist painter you like?

Ms. Howard: I really like Monet. His water lilies are fine but his series of haystacks at the Art Institute is really beautiful.

The Paw Print: If you had to choose, to teach another subject, which would you teach?

Ms. Howard: Drama.

The Paw Print: Favorite film?

Ms. Howard: There’s this French movie called The Intouchables, and it’s the perfect movie in my eyes. It’s based on the true story of an unlikely friendship, and it’s so well balanced; it’s serious and heart-wrenching, but the ending doesn’t leave me too distraught. And the music is really beautiful.

The Paw Print: You mentioned that you’d like to teach drama–do you have a favorite play?

Ms. Howard: My favorite play is The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. It was my first professional show in undergrad, and I played the murderer. It has more to do with my experience performing it than with the play itself, so besides that, Much Ado About Nothing is probably my favorite play to read.

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