06/22/2020 2:05 pm
Jefferson High School teacher Allyson Utech (left), her former student Antonio Ramirez (middle), and Rockford University President Eric Fulcomer (right) celebrate Allyson’s master’s degree in the RPS 205-Rockford University Education Pathway program.
Reprinted article “Jefferson Teacher, Former Student Walk the Same Path” by Mary Kaull with permission from Rockford Public School 205 VIBE™.
The story of a teacher helping a student is commonplace. But the story of Jefferson High School teacher Allyson Utech and her former student Antonio Ramirez is different: It’s a story of mutual help, growth and respect.
Their strong relationship, started seven years ago, continues through the current challenges of remote learning. They are adapting in large part because of what they learned in the Education Pathway program, a collaboration between Rockford University and Rockford Public Schools.
Utech, an English teacher, received her master’s degree in urban education from RU in 2018. Ramirez is scheduled to graduate in 2022 as part of the pathway undergraduate program. He plans to be an elementary teacher.
In a recognition ceremony marking Utech’s graduation from RU, Ramirez handed her the certificate. It was a poignant moment neither of them will forget. But their transformative relationship began long before that.
In 2012, Utech was in her first year of teaching at Jefferson. The school’s administrative assistant, Araceli Villegas, became her lifeboat while she was swimming in all the new challenges. “I would go to the office every day and say, ‘Araceli, I’m dying. Just dying.’ She would say, ‘You’re fine. You’re going to make it. Just take some deep breaths, and you’re going to get through this year.'”
Then Villegas needed a favor from Utech. She asked her to keep an eye out for her son, Antonio Ramirez, who would be a freshman at Jefferson the next year. And sure enough, when she got the class list for Introduction to Desktop Publishing, there was Ramirez’ name.
It was the first time Utech taught the course.
“I was like, all right guys, I’m going to apologize right from the top. This is going to be a rough class,” she said. “But it turned out OK, I think. And that’s how I met Tony.”
Ramirez said he enjoyed watching his teacher grow, and he found her honesty refreshing.
“Whether or not she felt overwhelmed or kind of like she was drowning, she left that out the door – out the classroom door. She really came in every day with such great energy and loved what she was doing, regardless of whether it was hard or not.”
Their bond deepened during Ramirez’ sophomore year, when he auditioned for a theatre production at Jefferson and Utech was a director. He remembered her getting on her hands and knees and rolling on the floor to demonstrate how to act out the part of Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
Over time, Utech noticed another talent Ramirez had.
Whether it was reading his classmates’ first drafts of papers or helping them practice their lines in theater productions, Ramirez’ leadership skill with students was obvious. “I was blown away by how much they listened to him, how much they respected him,” Utech said.
She helped him realize how those talents could translate to teaching.
Later, he helped her with research for her master’s degree. Her thesis was on restorative practice, which helps students release tension or cope with personal struggles before they come to learn. The class was her laboratory, and Ramirez did his part by being vulnerable and open.
The technique ended up being wildly successful in her classroom. Her Pathway studies also helped her during this period of remote learning, she said. She understands her students and her teaching practice in a different, more forgiving, way. Restorative practices allowed her to stop being so hard on herself and expecting results immediately.
“The program did help me just breathe,” she said, “in a positive way and not a condemning way.”
Ramirez says he will never forget the lessons his former teacher taught him about making connections and opening up to others. “She was human. That was impactful,” he said.
Just this month, he reached out to her for help with a college essay. He’s confident she will continue to be there for him. “She’s going to have the right strategies, the right advice that I need,” he said.
Mary Kaull has worked in communications for the Rockford Public Schools since 2012. She has lived in near northwest Rockford for more than 30 years and has two adult children. In her spare time, she exercises, reads, cooks, sews and contemplates her growing pile of craft materials. She has inherited her son’s hunting dog, Seamus.
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