Alison Wood: “Don’t be afraid to talk to teenagers”

Working as a teacher wasn’t always Alison Wood’s vision. Although she had helped at day camps and in Sunday School in high school (and had a mother who worked in a school library), it wasn’t until college that she realized that teaching might be a good path for her.

Finding that path certainly has been a stroke of luck for Duluth Public Schools where Alison has worked with the Alternative Learning Center, teaching math and science (and doing a fair bit of social work) and then moving to Central and later Denfeld High School where she currently teaches.

Alison clearly sees her work as preparing students for much more than understanding science. She thinks it is critical for any adult to have enough knowledge about their own body to be able to make sense of the news. But her true goal is to have students develop critical thinking skills and be informed consumers of media. In the age of Covid-19, she wants students to be able to ask questions like, “What’s missing here?” and “What questions do you have about the information?” This push towards critical thinking is part of her involvement with the National Center for Science Education that is modeling ways for teachers to address the topics of evolution and climate change in the classroom.

Alison’s push for critical thinking extends beyond the classroom. She also supports students in being critical about school systems that are intended to serve students. As the advisor for the Gay-Straight Alliance, she supports students in going to conferences and learning how to make the school more welcoming for all students. One project she is particularly proud of came from her “Pathways to Teaching” class in which a student decided that the school needed to have a non-gendered option for a bathroom. The student did all the research about which bathroom could be used, doing a cost analysis, and putting in a work order request. While the bathroom was eventually transformed, it first had to wait for the School Board to pass a policy that applied to all schools. This led to some questions on the part of students, such as “Why did it have to take so long?” and “What’s wrong with adults?” But it also led to some important breakthroughs, like one student who shared that it was the first time they felt comfortable going to the bathroom in school.

Being a part of Peace church is important for Alison and her family. She gets a lot of support from Peace, and it makes her realize that the level of support for young people at Peace is what she knows needs to happen in schools. So she encourages all of us to get involved in schools. Once schools are back in session, check into tutoring programs or join with students at lunch time in conversation. Those connections with adults really make a difference. As a final piece of advice, she urges, “Don’t be afraid to talk to teenagers. Let them know you care and hear how things are going for them.”

Interviewed by Doug Bowen-Bailey