OTTUMWA—For Ottumwa High School science teacher, Heather Swanstrom, the best part of her day is when students make the connection between what they are learning and their everyday life.
Swanstrom, an Ottumwa native and OHS graduate, has been teaching for seven years. Currently, she is part of the Freshman Academy. “I love the academy,” said Swanstrom. “It is a good bridge from middle school and the responsibilities of high school.” She feels the transition sets students up for success throughout their remaining high school years. “The students take more ownership for their learning,” she said. “We become their support system to make the transition.”
She is following in the footsteps of her dad, as well as two former elementary teachers, Eileen Day and Judy Steeples. Swanstrom remembers a third grade assignment asking what she wanted to be when she grew up. Mrs. Steeples sent her that assignment when she graduated from OHS. “I want to be a teacher,” Swanstrom had written. Her dad also had a big influence on her.
In her short time, she has seen students blossom. “I love seeing kids who graduated high school who never thought it was an option, then go to college and have a successful career,” she said. “They are so excited to share their story with me.”
Her classroom continues to evolve. “I get kids 45 minutes a day,” she said. She works hard to be that caring adult with the 120 students she sees daily. Just recently, she learned a new strategy during professional development and implemented it this spring. Every Monday, the class takes five minutes to share personal stories. She shares too. “It’s harder at the high school level to make connections with students,” she said. In regards to her “Motivation Monday” activity, “oh my gosh they love it.”
Her personal goal as a teacher is to never become stagnant. “I want to continue to learn what I’m teaching and learn for my kids.”