René Montgomery: “Be change you wish to see in the world.”
This familiar quotation by Mahatma Gandhi is the guiding force in René Montgomery’s life. These words hang on the wall in her office at Cloquet High School, where she teaches English. As a teacher for over 30 years, René works to ensure that her students are given what they need “to learn and grow and make progress.” That is why equity in education, and bringing racial justice into the schools, is of primary importance to her. She wants to have equal opportunity and access available to all students in the schools.
René prefers to work behind the scenes to help solve problems, and she knows that the problems of today’s world are many. But what is of real importance to her is finding ways to equalize learning opportunities at an early age for all students. Being an English teacher, she especially hopes to find ways to overcome gaps in reading in early years, so that all students have the opportunities they deserve. She worries about homelessness and poverty, and the impact that these intertwining issues have on families.
René reports that Cloquet High School has participated in culturally responsive teacher training. She states that this instruction has opened her eyes to the fact that equity does not equal equality, that students must have their individual needs taken into account to help them develop their full potential.
René’s faith is a major background component to her work. She remarked, “You can’t be a teacher nowadays without an awful lot of prayer!” Her faith provides her with a personal connection to strength, and though her faith is strong, she considers it a quiet personal choice as to how people live out their faith. “My faith keeps me strong individually and I use that to help other people through my work.” That same quiet humility plays out in her political beliefs too. “I work behind the scenes mostly. I’m involved politically but not out front.”
René is a Duluth native, and attended Homecroft Elementary School, Washington Junior High, and Central High School. She and her husband Bob have been members of Peace Church for 16 years. Together, they have two children, Grant, 25 and Haley, 19.
Besides trying to do the best for each of her students, René thinks globally. When asked what she would most want to change in the world, she responded, “That’s a big question, isn’t it? I’m thinking [I would want to change it] in a million ways!” Homelessness, poverty, inequality and lack of social justice are just some of the things she would change.
René epitomizes what she hopes to see in others. Her motto is “If not you, then who?” By living out her ideals, being that quiet source of strength for others, and working to provide every opportunity for success for her students, she lives her life of faith daily and steadfastly.
Interviewed by Terese Tomanek