Huntingdon Area High School’s Heidi Werner is a Shakespeare connoisseur and lover of all things literature — which is all the more reason she loves teaching high school English.
Heidi remembers playing “school” and “teaching” her stuffed animals at a young age, but fully realized that she would like to pursue it as a career when she was in middle school and realized she could get paid for sharing her love of literature with others.
Since she knew from such a young age that she wanted to be an English teacher, she was able to work to achieve this goal through her whole life. Though she spent time administering and performing in her other passions, music and theater, none of the other careers she pursued were as fulfilling to her as teaching has been. As far as why she chose to teach secondary education, Werner says, “I crave the intellectual analysis and discussion that can only occur after the foundations of reading, writing, speaking and listening have been mastered. I am indebted to my colleagues who teach elementary school for giving my students the skills they need to be successful in my high school classes.”
Early on she was inspired to become a teacher thanks to a lifelong family-friend who spoke with a great joy and enthusiasm about her students and classroom experiences. Heidi came from a family in which education is very highly valued and so being a part of that process for others was always encouraged. Thus her parents, grandparents, and other family members were supportive of her career choice.
Having attended Huntingdon Area High School (HAHS) herself, Heidi had sworn that she would leave town to further her education in Alaska or Hawaii — anywhere but here! However, Juniata College’s use of their Program of Emphasis (POE) system was the perfect opportunity for Heidi to continue her education in music and theater along with English and education; the benefits of staying home to attend Juniata College were too great to ignore. She also adds that there is no denying that their small and intimate campus is nothing short of beautiful.
Because Juniata College allowed her to create an individualized program of emphasis, Heidi never had to worry about changing her major. Though her primary focuses were in English secondary education and theater, she also enjoyed her classes in other fields such as science, technology, art, and history. Juniata, being a liberal arts school, focuses on teaching it’s students to be well-rounded citizens, rather than specialists in a specific area. Heidi valued this style of learning, saying, “I worry sometimes that our society has become too specialized.” “I will always credit a Juniata education for my cultural awareness and the ability to have an intellectual conversation with just about anyone at a cocktail party,” she said on how she has benefitted from having attended Juniata College. After graduating from Juniata, and while teaching full time, Werner obtained a Master’s Degree in education from Wilkes University.
Rather than having an “Aha moment” in which she decided to become a teacher, Heidi has this sort of story describing when she discovered her passion for literature. She first studied William Shakespeare her freshman year in high school and, upon being introduced to the Globe Theatre and the Elizabethan Era, “I was hooked.” She says that, “there is nothing I’d rather read than a Shakespeare play” because, after her extended education in English literature, she has a particular fondness of “the poetics, the characters, the play on words, [and] the timelessness of the subject matter.”
Since she attended HAHS, she had to adjust from viewing her old teachers as educators to working alongside them as colleagues; she notes that, “their level of trust and patience was enormous.” When she was hired here she shared a classroom with her former Geometry teacher, Jim Park, and accredits him as a mentor when it comes to all the procedures and paperwork associated with being a teacher. She also commends the English teachers she worked alongside in her first few years at HAHS and, “can only hope to carry on their legacy of excellence in the English Department.
Her favorite part of teaching is collaboration, through co-teaching with her colleagues and creating cross-curricular lesson plans and using all the beneficial skills she obtained through a liberal arts education. Heidi currently co-teaches alongside social studies teacher Stacey McMath with whom she works on projects aimed to “allow students to showcase their learning in new and meaningful ways.” Together the two created a film class which works to show students “History vs. Hollywood.” Their current collaborative projects are the AP and Honors Government courses and 12th grade English in which classes they utilize “Multiple Intelligence and Choice Theories to guide [their] methodologies.” Though Stacey is younger than she, Heidi likes to tell people that she wants to be Stacey McMath when she grows up, and commends her for being “an amazing teacher with whom [she] feels honored to work.”
She is also currently working with Jennifer Snyder, and they introduce Special Education Co-Teaching to the English classroom. Snyder’s skills with technology and innovative techniques made the class structure they use so successful that they were asked to present their work at the National Mass Customized Learning Conference, along with Stacey McMath, this past summer.
Werner has taught every grade she is certified to teach, including seventh through 12th grades, and nothing compares to teaching Shakespeare to senior high students; English 12 has been the highlight of her career thus far. Above all, the Bearcat Pride makes teaching at HAHS stand out the most. She has been a Bearcat since 1985, and has observed the constant spirit the town shows for the school: it’s sports teams, musical groups, academic competitions, and anything else the students are involved with. As time passes in Huntingdon “the competitors change; the spectators are different; the once students become the proud parents. No matter what technologies come along or what new faces appear in the hallways of the building, that Bearcat Pride never dies.”