As a student at College of DuPage, Lisa Buchholz loved her classes in business and marketing and thought her career path was set.
However, taking a class to fulfill a general education requirement completely changed her plans.
“I reluctantly attended a child care course which required me to observe in a preschool,” she said. “The preschool staff kept leaving me alone in the classroom with the kids, which I thought was crazy. But I would step up and manage the class. Next thing you know, I was being offered a job because they had been watching me through a window that looked like a mirror to us in the classroom. I ended up loving being with children and entered North Central College in Naperville as an Elementary Education major.”
After finishing her degree at North Central and becoming the first woman in her family to do so, Buchholz began working for Glen Ellyn School District 41, first as a reading/math aide at Forest Glen School. Then she landed a first grade position at Ben Franklin School, where she stayed for 10 years.
Once her own kids were school age, Buchholz wanted to be at their school so she transferred to Abraham Lincoln Elementary, where she still works. She mostly has taught first grade but also second and third.
In 2018, she received the prestigious Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching and Leadership, presented annually by Golden Apple, a nonprofit organization that develops and supports teacher and school leader excellence.
“Honestly, I am still shocked by receiving the Golden Apple,” she said. “I have been nominated in the past but haven’t filled out the paperwork or entered the process. I felt like the nomination was reward enough. However, this time my daughter, Kaila, who was student teaching at the time, begged me to fill it out. So I did. My mindset was to just speak from the heart and with my first instinct.
“I was so surprised to be one of 30 finalists based on those answers. That was very validating to me because I literally wrote what first came to my mind and didn’t hold anything back. It’s always important for me to be real and to never be fake.”
After a team observed her in the classroom and interviewed colleagues, administrators, parents, students and Buchholz herself, she assumed she would be contacted via phone or email. What she didn’t expect was a surprise visit to her school.
“When the TV crew and Golden Apple staff, along with my family and district staff, surprised me with being an award recipient, I was stunned and speechless. They asked me why I was so shocked and I said, ‘Other people win this,’” she said. “Honestly, the way the surprise visit was truly a surprise was that my family kept the secret. To see them walk through the door with everyone else was awesome and funny at the same time because they cannot keep secrets like this!”
During her acceptance speech for the award, Buchholz thanked College of DuPage and the class that changed her life.
“COD literally found my career for me by making me be a well-rounded student. It also gave me a quality college beginning that I was able to finish up at North Central College,” she said.
In spite of her many years as a teacher and being recognized for excellence in the classroom, Buchholz still feels like she is figuring it all out.
“I’m constantly changing and revising what I do and the approaches I take. I also like to share what I know with other teachers and I’d like to find a venue for that,” she said. “Teaching, while so much fun and incredibly rewarding, is a hard job. We need to work together and support each other to do the absolute best for our students. When you find things that work, you like to share with others to help them out. Many people have helped me along the way and I’d like to do the same.”
Buchholz advices students who want to become teachers to get into classrooms and observe as early as possible.
“Make sure this is the career you think it is. I’ve heard many college-bound kids say things like, ‘I don’t know what I want to do, so I’m going into teaching.’ I’d say if you love kids and you love hard work, this is a great profession for you,” she said.
“Every single class that I took at COD was quality. I felt very ready to enter my final two years of college once I earned my associate degree.”