ROCK ISLAND — It is 10:03 a.m. on a wind-swept winter's morning, and day two of second-semester honors English at Alleman High School is rolling.
The leader of the English-preaching band is Jackie Phelps, a 20-year teaching veteran who on this day is working far above the rim.
Mixing sincerity and humor in a drive to reach the 25 students before her, Phelps is the poster teacher for being engaged in the subject she teaches and the students she reaches.
Already three hours into her day, Phelps is highlighting a bevy of intriguing writing assignments and maybe the most unique self-portrait assignment to come down the pike.
Blond and bespectacled, the married mother of two is a master of the Smartboard, and she moves deftly about the room, pushing her podium on wheels up and down the split-down-the-middle classroom.
Often she refers to Benjamin Franklin as: "My man Ben.''
As Phelps explains the challenging outline facing her students — and there is a healthy dose of writing involved — she is met with enthusiasm. Complaints about the seven assignments awaiting the students are absent. Not one moan, one groan or one "Are you serious?'' can be heard.
The enthusiastic response from those gathered before Phelps is the motivation that moves her to do what she does each day.
"I have always wanted to be a high school teacher,'' says the Alleman High School and and Illinois State University graduate, who had an outstanding prep athletic career as an Alleman Pioneer. Phelps is also the head sophomore girls' basketball coach at Alleman.
"I have had some great teachers along the way, and I knew I wanted and needed to help others and felt like teaching was the best fit for me,'' adds Phelps. "I enjoy high school students. They have great passion, humor and motivation.''
Phelps' husband, Darren, is a teacher and football coach at Moline High School. Her sons are Dylan, 13, and Drew, 11.
"Darren is a huge influence on my life and career; I would not be able to coach and teach and help out with Sigma (Alleman's chapter of Students Against Drunk Driving) and Dance Marathon if he wasn't so supportive,'' Phelps says. "He is Superdad for about four months during basketball season. He helps make the family run. My husband also helps put things in perspective for me.
"My children are my life, and I am blessed and lucky that they support and understand the commitment of my job.''
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Phelps says the enthusiastic response from her students to whatever they are tasked with motivates her to do what she does.
"I graduated from Alleman; I had a great experience,'' Phelps says. "My students are the best, and I enjoy working with them every day. They can put a smile on my face and motivate me to push on. The students I teach and coach are wonderful young adults who strive to do their best and who are willing to give of themselves to help others.
"I am so proud of my students who have graduated, and I love seeing how they thrive in college. They do amazing things, and I am privileged to have taught them. My students inspire me, and I hope I am making a difference and motivating them.''
Phelps lauds her parents as tremendous role models and says she was taught by them to do what is right and think of others before herself. In a two-teacher, two-coach household with two active and engaged children, life can be hectic, she says, but there is help at every turn.
"My parents support me and help me do my job of teaching, coaching and helping out with clubs at Alleman,'' Phelps says. "Having two very involved children, it is hard to get them where they need to be, and my parents help out when needed.''
Despite the many rewards, there are drawbacks to simultaneously being a teacher, a coach and taking on added responsibilities at the school where you teach. Often you may spend more time with children of others than you spend with your own.
"I do miss out on some of the things my children do (games or performances) and that is hard, but I do believe in paying it forward,'' Phelps says. "I am there for other kids, and I know that there are people out there that are there for my children. My children see Darren and I work hard to help them, ourselves and others.''
Having a bevy of gifted peers has made life as an educator a smooth ride for Phelps. She is quick to point out that it takes a village to do it all.
"I have worked with some very amazing people who continue to push me to do my best and inspire me to give of myself,'' she says. "Maribeth Burkhead, Cathy Plasscheart, Lynn VanDeHeede, Megan McCracken, just to name of few. My teachers — Jay Hatch, Kay O'Brien, Don Adams, just to name a few — are huge influences.
"I consider myself lucky and blessed to get to do what I do.''