When Melissa Sickinger looks at the AP English Teacher of the Year Award plaque on her desk, she does not think of it as a personal achievement. Instead, she thinks about the students who worked their hardest to earn their impressive AP exam results. After all, a teacher’s job is to guide.
Sickinger originally had not planned to teach, despite her mother constantly telling her she would be excellent at it. Instead, she entered Purdue University as a business major and found out that working with money was not for her.
“I realized that I didn’t like the accounting component of it,” she said. “Everybody always came to me in the dorms for help on papers and my mom always told me growing up that I’d be a good teacher, but I had said no because they don’t make any money. After two years as a business major, I switched out to English education and it was the best decision I ever made.”
Now, she is in her 17th year at Merrillville High School and an award winning teacher in one of the hardest courses available to high school students, AP English Composition. She also let out a trade secret: it is not just the students who often struggle to make learning fun.
“I decided a few years ago that if I’m teaching the same thing all day long, I have to enjoy it a lot to do the same thing three or four times in a row,” Sickinger said. “So that means we do fun stuff. We use a lot of music, art, history, and pop culture. We have a lot of great conversations that I thoroughly enjoy, but I realized that I have to be able to get on their level and put myself back in my 17-year-old shoes.”
Sickinger identifies two main groups of role models in her life, her English teachers and her parents. That is part of why she understands just what an impact a good teacher can make in kids’ lives. The best teachers are able to inspire their students to reach their greatest heights.
“My award is because of the students. They did it,” she said. “We’ve had a ton of success and the students are doing super awesome.”
Sickinger actually works two jobs. The first is teaching, but the second is managing the marketing and creative content for her husband’s farm park, Harvest Tyme. The farm features corn mazes, rides, pumpkins, hayrides, and more. They started the farm 12 years ago, and one of Sickinger’s proudest accomplishments is just how much it has grown.
“I remember the first time we broke $1,000 and how ecstatic we were, it was just family working there,” she said. “It’s a labor of love, and sometimes literal blood, sweat and tears go into it. I never imagined the cash box on a folding table would become a Facebook page with thousands of followers.”
Sickinger, her husband Josh, and their two sons live in Crown Point, having moved there just this year. Outside of her work at the high school and Harvest Tyme, she is a makeup enthusiast and sales person, and a self-proclaimed Orangetheory addict.