No matter what we do, what we do matters.
It’s time to get back to school, and teachers all over are gearing up to have a good year with a fresh crop of students. Meet Amanda Limberg. Mrs. Limberg is an enthusiastic and creative third grade teacher at St. Joseph School in Downers Grove, IL. Mrs. Limberg is always coming up with new ideas to keep her students engaged and curious, all the while infusing the day with playful and infectious energy. Amanda is also a new transplant to the Midwest from the South with her family, and has two girls of her own at home.
G: You were new to our school last year, and when my son was assigned to your classroom, I was so curious about you. In those first emails about third grade, I could hear the enthusiasm for what you do coming through the computer. Can you tell me a little bit about what attracted you to the teaching profession?
A: In general I am a passionate person. I am either 110 percent all in or nothing! When I was in college, teaching felt so much like a calling that I almost pushed it away. It just felt too obvious. So I studied other things, and I really wanted to challenge myself and make sure that it was really what I wanted to do. I have an Art History Minor. I studied Mexican History. I felt passionate about those things too, but when it came down to it, I knew Education was where I needed to be. My first teaching experiences taught me that teachers have such a powerful voice, and that these kids hang on every word we say. So we have to use our voices carefully. I want my students to not only hear that I am excited about the Science project, but I want them to see and feel my excitement about the Science project. I love teaching, and after 17 years, it’s about finding new ways to get excited about teaching. These kids give instant feedback in their behavior and their enthusiasm for learning, so if they are not giving me that feedback it’s up to me to keep figuring out why.
G: You are a Mom to two girls. How do you juggle your job and life at home?
A: I think that it’s just finding what you love to do. I truly love this job. My girls keep me so busy at home, and it’s tempting to wonder if I should stay at home and be more available. But this job brings me happiness and I think I deserve that. I believe I deserve that creative outlet and it’s my passion.
G: You said you have been teaching for 17 years. And yet you still seem so in love with your profession.
A: I am so in love! I know this job could seem so repetitive over the years, but every year and every class is so different. I am always learning, reading and researching how to do thing differently. I think that each year I just try to do things bigger and better!
G: It sounds like your inherent curiosity about the world and teaching itself keeps it from getting stale by approaching each year with a fresh set of eyes. It’s as if your own spirit for learning keeps you motivated and that each year you try to reinvent yourself.
A: I am always wondering what I can bring from the outside world into the classroom and turn it into. I like to put my own spin and twist on things. Maybe that’s why I enjoy it so much. I make things my own. I don’t force myself to be something I am not. I’ve been fortunate to work in an environment where I have the trust of the administrators, kids and parents to do it that way.
G: I feel like I am hearing you say that you challenge the way something is “supposed” to be done. It has seemed lately in Education that teachers feel like they have to “stay in the box”. That they have to teach to the tests.
A: Yes, I agree 100 percent. I think I have just mastered a way to “tick all the boxes”, but still be authentic to myself. I am very much a “rule-follower”, but I just think I have found a way to do both. Sometimes I come up with things and don’t even know where it came from. In Catholic Education, I make it about what God would want me to in the lesson and the classroom. I couldn’t teach any other way.
G: I love that. I too believe that when we open ourselves to a greater source, and a Divine connection, we find inspiration and guidance.
A: I think confidence is a big part of it too. I believe that when you are confident, you have a better chance of success in your field. I think for me this comes from my upbringing. I was always told I could do it, whatever “it” was. I remember my Dad always saying, “Whatever you choose, just be the best at it”. When I go into things with confidence, when I adhere to my faith and the school, then I can have more freedom. I am comfortable in my own skin and in what I am doing. I had confidence going into it even as a young teacher, and I think that comes from my parents.
G: You have to know yourself well in order to be able to stay within the parameters of a given job, but still bring your authentic self in some way.
A:I do a lot of self talk. Whether it’s teaching, working out, parenting, or cooking. Whatever it is I am doing, I try to coach myself up. And I am trying to teach this now to my middle school aged daughters, which is the hardest time! I have been telling my girls that no one is going to do that for them. They need to learn to talk to themselves in gratitude and to think positive. I can take the tiniest things and make myself genuinely happy about it. Life is tough. Being a Mom is tough. Dealing with social media is tough. Whether it’s teaching or parenting, you take them under your wing and you hope they can draw later on from what you are teaching them now.
G: You spend so much time with your students all day. Yes, you are teaching them the academics, but you are also modeling enthusiasm and a mindset. As a parent, I see what you are doing as such a gift.
A: Thank you! I taught in one school system awhile back and I was forced to teach my own child one year. It really opened my eyes to how my teaching impacts parents. I had to give my own daughter a re-write and some constructive criticism about her writing. It was a new experience that taught me so much, and I believe it happened for a reason.
G: You seem to have such a positive attitude, which I am sure sets the tone for your students. I believe we all vibe off of each other’ so energy. What do you notice with the kids about how this mindset helps with classroom management?
A: I do believe it helps. But I also believe it’s important to be honest with the kids and for them to see me as a human. I don’t try to act like I know everything, so they see me having to problem solve too. I am lucky enough to be in a profession where I get a redo every day with these kids. As far as a mindset, I try to teach them to meet a higher expectation. Sometimes I throw a lot at them, but they rise to meet it. I believe it’s important to set standards and to show them they can do it. At the end of the day, with all of the things we are doing, whether it’s the Wax Museum project or the Math Fashion Show, I just want it to be memorable. I want them to have a plethora of things they can choose from that were their favorite projects from the year.
G: What are some of the challenges you face in your profession?
A: Honestly, I think one of the biggest challenges is the lack of perceived professionalism about the teaching profession. I feel like maybe teachers are perceived as idealistic or simple. Or maybe that it’s “cute” to be a teacher. I am also a writer and sometimes I feel more inclined to tell people that’s what I do because I sense it is viewed as being more professional. The only time I have ever contemplated leaving teaching have been moments where I feel that vibe about how the profession is viewed. Which is crazy. Because we teachers are the ultimate managers. We manage people going in a million different directions but going for a common goal. I wish more people would think about it like that. I am taking multi-level abilities, trying to accomplish the same goal, meanwhile you have kids going through divorce, kids who are sick, kids whose focus I have to regain every day. There is a bigger picture to what we do. It’s not just sitting with the kids on the floor reading a book. The other third grade teacher and I are constantly bouncing ideas back and forth and working hard to create new ideas for the classroom. People sometimes assume too that in education, the goal is to become a principal, which is an entirely different job. But I know now to not focus on that and find other ways of feeling professional about what I do, like my continued education courses or my writing courses that I take.
G: You obviously really put a lot of thought into your career and work hard to bring your best self to your job every day. You also are a Mom managing a busy household. What keeps you inspired and motivated?
A: I love the idea of creating something out of nothing. I use inspiration, like Pinterest for projects and ideas. I get a spark, and then I pick projects where I can make things a little bit difficult for myself. I like to give myself challenges. I never settle, and I like to change things up as I go. The kids sometimes tease me, and say, “Mrs. Limberg, are you going to go too far”? I get so many ideas back from the kids in the classroom too. As far as finding inspiration outside of the classroom, I love to travel. I take college courses, in Art History or in writing, and I like getting my writing published. I also love to read. I like to challenge myself and be proud of what I do, so that I can then share those experiences with my students too. I always just try to remember where I came from. My parents always made me feel comfortable in my own skin. I married a great spouse. My kids support me. And my students need me. And that is so special to me.