You Should Know… Shira Margol

Shira Margol and her family. Photo courtesy of Shira Margol

Shira Margol says she didn’t choose teaching — it chose her. Born and raised in Skokie, Ill., Margol, 36, made her way to the University of Maryland, where she earned master’s degrees in special education and education leadership. Six months ago, she and her husband moved their family to Rockville. She is now a special education teacher at Earle B. Wood Middle School, teaching math to seventh-graders.

How have you adjusted to being back, teaching in person? And how do you think your students are adjusting?

This is my first year at the school, but it does seem like the kids are so quiet. When I’ve spoken to other teachers, they’ve said this isn’t really normal. The kids are a little bit timid, a little bit emotionally scarred, so grateful to just be here that they’re just sitting quietly and happy to do work.

Why did you want to be a teacher? What motivated you?

I like to joke that I didn’t pick teaching, it chose me. I was that kid who would come home from school, set up my stuffed animals and teach them. My best friend’s mom had to call my mom once to be like, “[My best friend] doesn’t want to play school with her anymore.” All I did my entire life was camp counselor, babysitter, Hebrew school teacher. To
this day, I’ve never had a desk job.

Do you have a favorite story from your years of teaching?

In the world of special ed., they lump all special learners together. I had a lot of students come up to me and say, “Ms. Margol, you’re failing me.” And I didn’t really know what to say to them because I felt like these are the scores that you’re getting; this class is too hard for you. I was giving them the same grade-level tests that everyone else was taking.

And I realized many of these students are so smart and capable, but maybe not in the content that we’re teaching them. It’s just unfortunate that the way the school system is set up — they have to be taught the curriculum of the grade level they’re in and not the curriculum that’s right for them.

So I started adding in my own grades for them: This in-class activity we all did together, if you did it, you get 10 points. I made sure they had grades they could be proud of. It ended up boosting their morale. All of a sudden they would say to me, “I love math! I’m so good at it.” If they can leave my class feeling like the smartest ever and proud of themselves, then I’ve done my job. Of course they can’t master seventh-grade math — it’s ridiculous that they’re being asked to.

What was your Jewish upbringing like?

I grew up Orthodox. I wouldn’t say, like, spiritually I connected to them. But those were my people.

How did you end up in Maryland?

I applied to the University of Maryland thinking I’m never going to get in. And then when I got in, it was like, I’m going to Maryland. I knew I wanted to get away — I just have that personality of up for an adventure. On my first day there, I already knew people from Skokie.

Every Friday night, I was getting dressed up and going to Hillel. I was the one in the hallway talking to my friends. I probably never went inside the actual service. But that was my sorority — Hillel. It was completely built in. It was my entire life in college.

Was there a spiritual connection to your Jewish involvement?

I’ve never in my life really felt a spiritual connection, and still don’t. I’ve always been in it for the community aspect. I feel like you just can’t get that anywhere else.

Know someone age 40 or younger who has something important to say? Nominate them for a You Should Know interview. Email WJW Editor David Holzel at [email protected].

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