Middle School Teacher
Interviewed by Matthew Totsky
Photography by Brett Mountain
Meet Pleasant Ridge resident and middle school teacher Liz Banks. A sixth-grade science teacher at Page Middle School in Madison Heights, Banks has developed a reputation for bringing science to life in her classroom. She was named the 2016 Oakland County Outstanding Middle School Teacher of the Year, an award that came with a $2,000 check.
“I’m pretty overwhelmed by this recognition. It’s all very surreal,” Banks says. “I didn’t go into this profession for accolades. I am fortunate to not only teach my students, but also to see them grow into young men and women. To me, this is the greatest job on the planet.”
Banks was nominated for this honor by Caryn Roe-MacDonald, a math teacher at Page Middle School, and by her principal Doug Kelly. Banks was selected from a pool of 22 middle school nominees.
“The decision to nominate Mrs. Banks was a simple one,” Roe-MacDonald says. “Who else do you know that has her students raise money to have a freshwater well dug in a village in Africa? Who would hold the hand of a former student as the student goes through life-saving kidney dialysis? The answer is simple: Liz Banks.”
What made you want to become a teacher? I was originally studying pre-med at the University of Michigan. I was doing volunteer tutoring work and was overwhelmed by the sheer number of kids that couldn’t read and lacked the basic skills that come with a quality education. I knew as a doctor I could heal, but I came to realize as a teacher I could change the trajectory of someone’s life. I switched my focus from pre-med to education and began teaching in 1995 in Highland Park. I came to Page Middle School in 1998.
What is the best part about being a teacher? I have the ability to make a difference in someone’s life every day. All students have their own stories, but I’ve found I cannot teach them until they know I care about them. I work hard to develop personal relationships with every child that steps foot in my classroom. Education is so much more than test questions and labs. Students just need to be reminded that they can — and will — succeed.
Do you keep in touch with your former students? Yes! Many of my former students contact me through email or social media, and I often meet former students for coffee or lunch.
I’m lucky to get a lot of positive feedback from my current students, but to get a note from someone years later that says I made a difference in their lives is amazing. This is what keeps me going every day.
What other activities have you been involved in at the school? I was an athlete when I was younger, so it was inevitable that I’d do some coaching at some point. In the past, I’ve coached basketball and volleyball at the middle school and high school level. When you coach, you get to see a completely different side of a child than what goes on in the classroom. They have a different energy and levels of confidence. It’s a completely new kind of bond that is pretty awesome.
At the moment, I am the Science Department Chair at Page and lead the Fuel Up to Play 60 team. I’ve also started a walking club at the school.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of the classroom? I love spending time with my family. My husband and I have two sons, ages 11 and 8, and a 2-year-old boxer named Titan. During the summer, we spend a lot of time at the Pleasant Ridge pool, and we built a basketball court in our backyard where you can find us almost daily.
I love to travel. When I was in high school, I traveled throughout Europe playing basketball. I’ve been to some amazing countries including Africa, China, Mexico and Hong Kong. I’m fascinated to see different places and learn how people live in other societies and cultures.
What else are you passionate about? It was my work as a volunteer that helped me flip the switch and pursue a career in education, so that’s always been important to me. My students will tell you that I’m very passionate about causes and together we’ve collected more than $10,000 for UNICEF.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” That’s how I try to live my life and that attitude is one I try to pass on to my students. There are so many ways one can make a difference, and it doesn’t matter if it’s on a small or large scale. Just do it and, in the end, you’ll find the experience was extremely rewarding. NS