After 31 years of teaching Judy Mickelson, the head teacher for the elementary program at Windham Christian Academy, will retire at the end of this school year. Her career has been a journey of learning, she said, that continues to this day. Mickelson recently shared insight into the many lessons she’s learned throughout this journey with The Windham Eagle.
Windham Christian Academy in Windham is a faith-based school educating students from pre-kindergarten to high school. “Windham Christian Academy exists to assist parents by providing an educational environment nurtured by a biblical worldview, where each student can encounter God and mature in mind, body and spirit,” it said on its website.
Mickelson said that she believes that educating a child is the parent’s responsibility. “I just partner with the parent, lending my expertise to accomplish the task,” she said. She added that she can learn a lot by listening carefully, realizing that a parent really knows their child best. This makes cultivating a relationship with the parents one of her primary responsibilities, she said.
The ability to recognize that she wasn’t always right had a great impact on Mickelson’s career as well. “Admitting that I am wrong to children is a marvelous teaching tool,” she said. Learning to forgive herself and make amends quickly has also been important, she said.
Though difficult behaviors can be frustrating and make teaching more difficult, Mickelson said, “Behavioral problems are part of my job not just another distraction.” She adds that rather than punishing the child to change behavior, you need to reach the child’s heart to transform the life. She finds it important to let a child know that she understands what it is like to make bad choices, because she has made them herself.
Peter Lagasse, a teacher at WCA who has worked with Mickelson for 22 years, said this ability to show her flaws helped make Mickelson an excellent role model for students and teachers alike. “She realized, as we all realize even with our students, that if they see that we’re not perfect it makes them more comfortable to share their imperfections,” he said.
Mickelson said that WCA is the most fulfilling place she can imagine to work. “My colleagues and I share our lives every morning in a devotional time and treat each other with love and respect. There is great unity and no gossiping, backstabbing or politics,” she said. In settling differences, the staff uses Biblical principles, and they give 100 percent to the school for little money, Mickelson said.
Colleagues echoed Mickelson’s job satisfaction, and credited her for creating an open, welcoming environment. Legasse said, “She really allowed us teachers to take our strengths and use them as we saw best in our class,” he said. At the same time, he added, she was always challenging the teachers and herself. “Whatever she would ask of us, she expected that she would also be accomplishing too,” he said.
Cathy Cross has worked as an aide in Mickelson’s classroom for the past four years. She said that Mickelson has always made her feel that her ideas and approach are respected. “She has always made me feel like, even though I don’t have the academic training that I fit right in, and everything I think and feel is worth talking about. I very much respect her for that.”
Mickelson’s faith is an important part of who she is as a teacher and colleague. “She has been a very good example for me in my walk with the Lord,” said Cross.
Maureen Seavey, a teacher at WCA and a parent who has had four children who have been in Mickelson’s classroom said, “She has a very strong relationship with Jesus, and that really makes her who she is. She’s encouraging that in our children too. We see that as a big bonus,” she said.
Mickelson has worked at Windham Christian Academy for 31 years. Her husband, Roy, joined her on the teaching staff a year later, and became principal in 2001. She said she has been blessed with wonderful leadership from four principals and four pastors during her time at WCA. The Mickelsons have three children, all of whom attended WCA.
Mickelson is proud of the “Day at WCA” program the school runs for homeschooling families. About seven years ago, they began a program which allows elementary school children who are homeschooled to attend WCA each Wednesday to have physical education, art, music and library. Children from any community are welcome to join in this program.
Although Mickelson is retiring from being in the classroom full time, there are plans for her to continue doing some part time work at the school, mentoring new staff.