By Madeleine Spenbauer, Contributor
As Payton welcomes the class of 2026 into the building for the first time, it also welcomes a new cohort of teachers. This year, there are 22 new staff members joining the WPCP community! I met with Ms. Bush, a new English teacher at Payton to hear her story.
Paw Print: Why did you decide to start teaching at Payton?
Ms. Bush: Well, Payton has always had a reputation for being a school that expects rigorous outcomes in students and is also known for being a really diverse and dynamic school, and that really attracted me to the program. In addition to being a diverse learner teacher, I liked the idea of seminars and enrichments and exploring things that I’ve always found important to my identity and important to my understanding of self and so I liked the idea that I would be able to share that part of myself with my students.
Paw Print: Why did you decide to teach high schoolers?
Ms. Bush: I think that one of the reasons I like working with high schoolers is because we can get into more complex parts of conversations and looking at texts. I always really enjoyed studying history and English as a student and so I studied those in my undergrad program, and generally, if you select a topic like that, history or English literature, you become a secondary education major by default, whereas elementary education teachers only study elementary education.
Paw Print: Why did you decide to start teaching?
Ms. Bush: I always knew I wanted to be a teacher from a young age. I started playing school when I was probably about four years old and bossed my sisters around, and I had a little setup with name tags and a grade book. So I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. And so I went back to school; initially, I became a secondary education teacher, but then I went back to school and became a learning behavior specialist, and so then I work more particularly on fine-tuning some of those learning specialties.
Paw Print: Why did you decide to teach English?
Ms. Bush: Well, I was assigned English for this class, so I am really able to legally teach any subject ages 3-12. I’ve taught English for probably eight or nine years of my 15-year career, and so I really like literature, and I also really like teaching kids to write and getting them from a starting point to more developed and more in-depth language in their writing. Some of the reasons why, when I worked with administration on what my schedule would look like, I was attracted to English Language Arts, and [thought] that I would like to support our learners in literature and writing.
Paw Print: If you didn’t teach English, what would you teach?
Ms. Bush: I like American history. When I student taught, because I was a double major in history and English, the classes I taught were called “studies”. I taught world and American studies, and they were block scheduling so the first 45 minutes you would teach history and the second 45 minutes you would teach literature, so I would teach 1920s America, and then I would teach the Great Gatsby and we would talk about how historically accurate it is, or what the themes of that time period are and how they affect literature.
Paw Print: What were your first impressions of Payton when you first came here?
Ms. Bush: I came from an all-boys high school in my last placement, so I was very interested in seeing the dynamic of our students as they interacted, boys, girls, non-binary, with each other and I found that very interesting. I also only ever worked at any school, private or public, that has had a dress code, and so our student dress selection is very intriguing to me.
Paw Print: What would you say your favorite book is?
Ms. Bush: I have favorite authors, I wouldn’t say I have a favorite book. I will say that every Christmas break I usually read Little Women. I always come back to it, and every time I read it I find that I identify with a different one of the sisters. I think it’s interesting for me to go back and look at it and be like “Where am I at in my life and why do I find Jo particularly interesting this year?”.
Paw Print: What is your experience working for equity in the classroom?
Ms. Bush: As a diverse learner teacher, my experience has always been to try to have students access their potential. For me, content is important but progress and growth and finding out what you can do as your best self is always my goal. In terms of equity, sometimes we think about equity in terms of racial divide, or socioeconomic divide, but for me, as a diverse learner teacher I always look at it from an ableist situation and how are we teaching for just one set of abilities, and how do I make it so all of our students are able to access something.
Paw Print: What are the most important challenges for high schoolers to face?
Ms. Bush: Figuring out who they are in a world that is highly electronic and easily consumable and overwhelming. When I was in high school, the internet existed, and we had cable TV and all those other forms of pop culture that we consumed, but now I think with TikTok, Instagram, and other forms of social media, it can be almost overwhelming to decide who you are. There are just so many things out there that you are confronted with, so I think that that is something that all teenagers try to figure out, like, “Who am I, what is my style, what am I interested in and how do I explore that?”.
Paw Print: How do you plan on supporting students through academic endeavors?
Ms. Bush: With a lot of grace and flexibility and presence. Having a relationship with a student is far more important than knowing everything in your content area because you can do all the things, but if you can’t connect with a kid it doesn’t matter. If you like your students (and I generally do) and your students like you (and they generally do) you are able to have a relationship and go through the content together. Almost like Little Women, every year when I teach something, I learn something new and I hope that my students learn something new. Working together and that relationship I think is important.
Paw Print: Do you have any plans for the future?
Ms. Bush: All of them. All of the plans. I used to joke around with my students, and I still do, that when I grow up I want to be a doctor, or when I grow up I might be something else. I think that it’s important for kids and adults to know that you’re always going to be growing up, and you’re never really done with that. I will finish a Master’s degree in October, and I do plan to take some more trips this winter and spring because I’ll have more time to myself.