LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Terri Carnell

Position: English Teacher
School: Arrowhead High School
School District: Arrowhead Union High School District
City, State: Hartland, WI

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Mrs. Carnell is an educator at Arrowhead High School. She values other people for what they can become and for what they can accomplish. An explicit goal of hers is to help other people grow.

Mrs. Carnell is many things: a mentor to students, a phenomenal teacher, a caring mother, and someone to talk to if you are having a good or bad day. She is one of the most kindhearted human beings. She is someone who is like a mother to students without actually being their mother. She’s someone who takes the time to get to know her students. 

Many kids that take writing classes do it for the grade and the credits to graduate. Mrs. Carnell knows this. Yet, the students who usually give the class little effort or thought are the people she engages with the most. A student could be zoned out, on their phones, and off task, and Mrs. Carnell's polite request to give the work a chance will kindle the fire of a new essay.

Mrs. Carnell had implemented a phone jail at the start of the year, which was met with resistance from more than half of the kids. A week or so went by, and after remaining persistent with the rule, the class eventually did not have to be reminded to put their phones in the slots. One Friday, a repeat offender of the no-phone rule simply asked Mrs. Carnell,

"Mrs. Carnell, can we keep our phones on us just for today?"

Instead of blowing off the student's requests, Mrs. Carnell allowed her students to keep their phones on them as long as they were quiet. The first day of not using the phone jail after a few weeks of needing it went well; there were few distractions, and most of the class was still focused and in tune with the lesson. From then on, the phone jail was never used again during the class period.

Below is a collection of testimonials from her students:


"During my time in her classroom, I've seen the effects of her patience and persistence on students, including myself," said one student. "I like to write, and because of this, Mrs. Carnell's 11th-grade and 12th classes weren't a struggle. I completed her assignments easily and on time. I felt comfortable and confident in her class and found her friendly and sensitive."

"Through time, her kindness and sincerity became genuine. I never had to worry about a thoughtless or insensitive comment from her about an assignment or my opinion. It made her class a perfect end to the day during both semesters. Though it was a joy to know her, my biggest takeaway wasn't the way she treated me. It was the way she treated others," said the student.

"I recall a moment when someone who didn't like to share in class was called on to read something from the whiteboard. It's easy to judge, but this was the kind of person who looked like they didn't want to be at school and would rather never come back if they had any say. Mrs. Carnell didn't see that. She saw a person who had their own interests and ideas and might benefit from speaking in front of people now and again. Mrs. Carnell called on him to share and, after some persuasion, had him read two entire paragraphs from an article on the screen. She didn't do this to embarrass or punish him: she did it because she knew it was something he needed," said the student.

"I am grateful to have been in Mrs. Carnell's class more than once. It might have been the case that If I had her for one class, she would've been remembered as a great teacher and a nice person. However, having her a second year showed me that above all that, she is also compassionate and caring–and not just for the studious kids. She cares for each individual who comes into the classroom, whether they want to be there or not," said the student.

"Walking into Advanced Composition on a warm September afternoon, one of my best friends and I were greeted by a sweet lady with a smile. Throughout the semester, Mrs. Carnell always talked about treating others with kindness, even if it's not reciprocated. She would tell us the importance of a smile and how it can make someone's day. She wouldn't just tell us this; she would show it, and we could see it in her actions, whether smiling and saying hi in the hallways or always being positive in class," said another student.

"Sometimes we could tell Mrs. Carnell was having a bad day, but she never took it out on us. She could find a positive or a bright side to any situation. I always appreciated this because who wants to enter a class with a negative teacher," said the student.

"At the beginning of the semester, I wasn't very happy and was pretty pessimistic. As the semester progressed, I took what Mrs. Carnell was saying to heart and used it in my life. Because of Mrs. Carnell's constant positivity and optimism, I was able to start seeing the bright side of things in my life. I am much happier, and I owe a lot of that to Mrs. Carnell," said the student.

"At the end of the semester, right before we read our final exam, Mrs. Carnell read a piece of her own. In this piece, she wrote about each student in the class and how she sees each of us. For me, she wrote, "The sincerity of a smile and the willingness to follow the rules." It meant a lot to me because I didn't think teachers noticed students' personalities and behavior. It showed everyone in the class how much she cared about us. Even though it might have been small, someone taking the time to do something nice for you means a lot. As my friend and I left the class for the last time, we saw the same sweet lady smiling at us, only this time, we were smiling too.

"We live our days out with just going in the flow. We're always in a particular cycle of rinse and repeat, especially in school. We sit down and try to listen to the teacher about a new topic, then take the test and repeat. That's why school was something I always dreaded," said another student.

"I can still remember my first day of Mrs. Carnell's class. It was at the end of the day for a block class which I wasn't looking forward to. I walk from my dark biotechnology class to this bright room with light pouring in from the windows. I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my best friends in this class. We weren't too excited about the class, knowing we'd be writing for two straight periods," said the student.

"Mrs. Carnell and her bubbly personality then greeted us. She just seemed so genuine and wanted us to be there. She had personal conversations with us throughout the class—just really trying to get to know us. That's what got me to listen because it makes a difference when you're sharing personal writing pieces, and that person takes time to talk to you," said the student.

"Her class was where I learned I could enjoy writing, and it wasn't just about expressing yourself about a topic given to you. I skated in all my other English classes and never made much effort. Once I understood that there weren't so many stresses behind it and everyone writes in their own way, I grew a love for it and put my 100% in during those two periods at the end of the day," said the student.

"She not only taught me about writing, but she helped me understand that making connections with people is very important, and to be the best human we can be. She would tell me about the kids who didn't even give her a response when she said hi to them, and that made me understand to treat everyone the best you can no matter how you feel. She made me a better writer and person," said the student.

"We're at Pewaukee High School for summer league games, and Mrs. Carnell asked me if I was excited about Composition this coming year with her (I play basketball with her son). I asked her, 'Do you want to know the truth?' When she said 'Yes,' I told her, ' No, I'm not extremely excited about English, never before during my freshman and sophomore year. Never been good at writing, never enjoyed it. Hate reading, find it boring.' Her response surprised me. She said, 'Let's see if we can change it,'" said another student.

"Let me say, she did. Her teaching style was different than any teacher I've had before, especially her grading. Her not having a set rubric for a piece of writing made it so you could be yourself in your writing," said the student.

"This change allowed me to write pieces I was proud of, like my gratitude essay. For this essay, we had to write about someone that has changed our lives for the better, and we have to thank them for it," said the student. "I chose my Grandpa; everyone knows him as Gpa. I wrote this piece and was proud of it, but here comes the part I was nervous about. Calling him on the phone and reading it to him in front of the class. It wasn't required, but she hoped some people would try it."

"At first, when she asked for volunteers, nobody raised their hands, and everyone looked around, wanting someone else to go first. Mrs. Carnell asked again, almost whispering, 'Would anyone like to start us off?' I swear she was staring straight through me when she asked this question, so I did. I raised my hand to go first," said the student.

"I opened my piece and called Gpa. He picked up right away and asked, 'Why are you calling me? Aren't you supposed to be in school?' I said, 'I'm in school, just need someone's help to make sure a piece sounds good,'" said the student.

"I then started reading…my heart was pounding like never before, but after I read the first paragraph, I felt less stressed and enjoyed what I was doing. Once I finished reading, there was dead silence at the end of the phone. Then I hear slow but steady crying on the other end of the line. I never realized a simple act of gratitude could mean so much to someone. What surprised me most was how many hands shot up after I finished reading," said the student.

"I will always thank Mrs. Carnell for sticking with me in Composition, no matter how hard-headed I might have been. I want to thank her for positively changing my life by showing me what leadership can do and asking one more time if anyone would like to go. I want to thank her for showing that the smallest gestures, like simple gratitude, could change someone's world forever," said the student.

"Writing is not my favorite thing, but Composition with Mrs. Carnell my junior year changed my mind about writing. Instead of having to write about books or something for class, composition gave me a chance to write about what I wanted to write," said the student. "On the first day of class, I sat by none of my friends. Mrs. Carnell had us write and share with the people next to us. Throughout the semester, I got to know them more personally, knowing what they do for fun, their name's meanings, and so much more. I shared personal stories about my life, and they shared personal stories about their lives. The life lesson I got from them was that their lives are completely different from mine, even if I thought their lives were perfect," said the student.

"In her class, we got to write about so many things. We wrote about people who show gratitude to us every day. We talked about events and people that shaped our lives and interviewed them. I learned so many life lessons in that class. It truly helped me love to write. Writing about yourself is completely different than writing about something for a school project. Instead of research, you need to think about your life and the memories that make you who you are," said the student.

"One day, after physics class, I cried in the hallway because of a test. Mrs. Carnell saw me and didn't just walk past me. She came up and talked to me. That day, Mrs. Carnell changed my mindset about her. She showed me that her compassion goes beyond the classroom. Mrs. Carnell cared enough to stop and talk to someone alone crying in the hallway. Even if I didn't want to talk to anyone, she knew I needed someone to talk to, and she talked to me like a real person. I cannot thank her enough for that. In that instant, I was having the worst day, and she made it better, creating a memory I will never forget," said the student.

"I continue to talk to her whenever I see her, and it always makes my day better seeing her smile. Mrs. Carnell's class changed my perspective on the people around me, realizing everyone has a story to tell. You just have to listen to it," said the student.

"For my school career, I have struggled with English more than any other subject I have taken. Since elementary school, when we learned about verbs and adverbs, I knew that English was not my strongest subject," said another student. "This all changed when I enrolled in Mrs. Carnell's composition class. My first day in her composition class is something I will never forget. My first impression of Mrs. Carnell was this super sweet middle-aged mom who cares about how her students are doing. I was ecstatic to learn that my assumptions had been correct when she told us all she cared about was that we tried in our writing pieces rather than how or what they were about," said the student.

"I remember one of the first writing exercises she had us do was putting a six-word motivational quote on a piece of paper to put on the walls of her classroom. This helped me start to get over my fear of what other people thought of my writing and taught me to go for it," said the student. "If I had to pick a few words to describe Mrs. Carnell's teaching, they would be "Try, try, try." Effort is the most important tool you can utilize when you walk through the door to her classroom. This helped me with writing and other obstacles I would face in my life."

"One of the most important pieces of writing you will complete if you take Mrs. Carnell's composition class will be your college essay or one version. When I first found out about writing the essay, I had no clue what I would write about and was even considering not giving all that much effort. Still, during one of the discussions about what to write about in our essay, Mrs. Carnell told us, 'The worst thing you can do is not try.' With this mentality, I was able to complete my college essay that I wouldn't have been able to submit without Mrs. Carnell's help," said the student.

"These words would come to help me so much when I would write because at the end of the day, as long as I was putting words on a piece of paper or an online doc, I was writing, and that was all that mattered. Due to this, I thrived in her class when it came to writing, and I became a better writer overall. Overall, I believe that Mrs. Carnell is a LifeChanger because without her, I would not even be close to the writer I am today," said the student.

Comments (1)

Caroline Schramka Posted 12 months ago

I was blessed to have Mrs. Carnell as my English teacher for three wonderful years. She is caring and passionate about helping students grow not only as people; but also as a writer. If you were having a bad day she would comfort you and assure you're going to be okay. I remember at the beginning of class we would play games to get our brains going and it helped with the classroom morale greatly. She would use creative techniques to help us understand certain concepts. On the last day of my senior year, I hugged her and thanked her for helping me become a better person. She is definitely a LifeChanger for me and so many other students.