Top teacher fosters personal ties
By Sarah Campbell
Julie Stolze always planned to work with children, but she wasn’t quite sure teaching was her calling.
“Everybody told me, ‘You should be a teacher,’ and I started just bucking it, saying no,” she said.
And Stolze never imagined she’d one day be dubbed Rowan-Salisbury School System’s Teacher of the Year.
“I really am not anything special,” she said. “I don’t stand out when you think about the incredible caliber of teachers in this county.”
While working as an instructional aide at her son’s middle school and pursuing a doctorate in pediatric psychology at the University of Kansas, she realized she was wrong.
“I started thinking, here I am trying to find ways to impact students,” she said. “I thought the people who have the most access to and the most opportunity to help students are the people who spend time with them every day.”
So Stolze ditched the path to her doctorate degree, taking a new road to her earn her teaching certificate.
Stolze taught in Kansas for two years and California for seven, before moving to Rowan County with her husband, Greg.
Arrives in Rowan
She began her career in the Rowan-Salisbury School System teaching for a year at both Knox and West Rowan middle schools before becoming a curriculum coach at West Rowan Middle.
When former West Rowan Middle Principal Cindy Misenheimer was selected to lead the Rowan County Early College on the campus of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, she asked Stolze to make the move with her.
“The big thing that makes her stand out is she thinks about and understands how students learn,” Misenheimer said. “She’s not willing to let anybody slip through the cracks or get by without doing their very best.”
Misenheimer said it’s Stolze’s dedication to students that made her the perfect choice for the 2010-11 Teacher of the Year.
“She really understands and cares about them as individuals,” she said.
Sophomore Brandi Salwski said Stolze helped develop her critical thinking skills by encouraging her to dig deeper during English I.
“I really liked her, she wasn’t a traditional teacher, she did a lot of hands-on activities,” she said. “She cared more about whether you understood something than a teacher who only cares about high test scores.”
Stolze said since she began teaching she’s focused on how students learn in order to ensure their success.
“The content is interchangeable, but the actual strategies that you use and the way they interact with the students is the same,” she said.
Sophomore Justin Rattz said Stolze was always energetic and entertaining when he had her for English.
“Not one day goes by where she is boring in the class,” he said.
“She just makes class fun.”Sophomore Bryan Call said Stolze’s approach is different than most teachers.
“She cared that we actually learned the big picture, not just the small stuff,” he said.
Stolze said she strives to make connections by linking the classroom with real life.
“The best thing a teacher can do is work herself out of a position because the students are teaching themselves,” she said.
Raising two sons, John Paul, 26, and Joe, 23, has also been an important aspect to Stolze’s teaching approach.
“Particularly because I’m a mother, I’m in their business. I want to know what’s going on,” she said. “The kids know I”m a mother and that I have that nurturing tendency, but they also know that I have high expectations for them.”
Middle school bound
Stolze started out teaching in middle school because she wanted to reach out to students who don’t particularly enjoy school.
“Thinking back on my own life, middle school was a tough time. I hated it,” she said. “I thought maybe I can make it easier for students.”
As a high school teacher, Stolze enjoys being able to teach more rigorous courses.
“I hope they leave with a sense that they are scholars, they are capable of meeting any kind of academic goal that they set for themselves,” she said.
During a recent visit to her class, a group of 15 freshman were her captive audience as she explained dangling participles and engaged the class in a discussion about “The Odyssey.”
Stolze made the conversation even more lively by sowing the class a YouTube video of Suzanne Vega’s “Calypso,” which shows Odysseus from Calypso’s point of view.
When Stolze began teaching about 15 years ago playing a video in front of the classroom would have required a VCR and television.
“The tools that we use change all the time .. but the actual learning stays the same,” she said. “Humans learn in certain ways. I say that there is this undercurrent of stability that will always be there because humans always learn when there is an emotional connection.”
Stolze said it’s those emotional connections that keep her coming back day after day.
“If you ask a person who their favorite teacher is, typically it’s that person that you had a relationship with,” she said. “The teacher that cared about you as a person.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.