Eastern Senior High School, 12th grade, Teacher for 22 years.
Toni Winsett, Eastern Senior High School, 12th grade | Photo by Jason Colston
Why did you become a teacher?
Initially, I went into the field as a teenager. As all young people do, I had the idea I would be changing the world now, which is sort of immature thinking. It takes time for your impact to be felt.
The real question is why did I stay in teaching. Maybe because I feel like I am a rock star (I’m just joking). But it feels great to hear, “Hey Ms. Winsett, I’m so glad you were hard on me. I am a lawyer, I work for a council member, I have four children, my children go to DCPS….”
If I hadn’t changed what I thought when I was 19, I would have stopped teaching. Most of us want to see changes immediately, but now I understand that you see much of the effect of your work, later. Teachers do change the world, and it is one person at a time. That one person goes on to change the world for the better─look at our president.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
Oh, Ms. Jakowski! She was my Algebra teacher, at Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, PA. Even though my field is English, she motivated me the most to become a teacher. She showed me how to pace my classroom.
I was fascinated by her and the way she taught. She was so personable, yet always on target. She spoke to me as a person, but never allowing me to forget that she was the teacher. I often copy her style. Her timing was impeccable, swift. Just when you thought you didn’t know something, she’d swipe that negative notion right out of your mind and before you knew it, you had just learned something new. She was good.
Three adjectives that describe your job:
Inspiring, engaging, eventful.
What is one thing that you wish someone had told you when you were a first year teacher?
There are several: There is no one answer to everything. “One size does not fit all” in learning, or teaching. Sometimes you just don’t have the solution at the moment. You don’t have to be perfect to everyone… to students, parents, other new teachers and veteran teachers. You do have to get it right—these are people’s lives you are impacting, and in ways you are not always aware of ─ but it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect all the time.
What's one thing your students have taught you about being a better teacher?
To listen. They taught me how to listen. They also taught me how to “prepare a meal” that fits them. Some like Hamburger Helper and others filet mignon, but in the end, they both can fill you up. In other words, some need you to be more serious and strict, some need you to lighten up, some want you to encourage them more and others want to find it for themselves.
You can’t take everyone to the same dinner and expect them all to like it. It is the same with teaching.
Answer one or the other:
Tell a little about a time when a student's accomplishments completely exceeded your expectations. Or, tell a little about a time when you were inspired by a student.
I was just thinking about this a few days ago. One day I was really upset. I had been switched from classroom to classroom, three times in one week. The windows in the last room were broken, there was dirt on the floor, and I had these new 9th graders. I was disgusted. So disgusted that I refused to teach and I sat down in my chair. One of the ninth-graders said “Is this your stuff in the box?”
I said “Yes.”
And he said “Ms. Winsett, we got this, don’t worry.” And he gathered the other students around, took a lesson from the box, and started teaching. They started to read Poe! That inspired me to get off my butt, clean up the room—they helped me, and we made it our home. Sometimes kids can do that for you.
Why is teaching an incredibly important job?
. . . Because learning is incredibly important. It is a part of our daily lives. It is in “your face” every day, you can’t avoid it. From purchasing groceries to become a CEO , it is the foundation of every career, job and everyday living.
Read more teacher profiles »