< Back

The Teacher with No Answer Key: Rebecca Wertz

“I don’t have an answer key.” 

It’s a phrase that students in Rebecca Wertz’s AP English Language and Composition classes are accustomed to hearing. She’s certain they’ll come to appreciate it. 

“AP English Language is a course that involves challenging students to wrestle with big issues and form their own arguments,” said Wertz, a teacher at McGuffey High School in Claysville, PA, and NMSI’s February Teacher of the Month. “I try to validate what they come up with. They like that, too, when I say, ‘I hadn’t thought of that.’” 

Wertz said she knows students appreciate her approach to teaching when she gets messages like this one from a 10th grade student:  

“I just want to say thank you. I was sitting in the car and we were talking about deeper meanings of songs and I was able to give a really deep explanation, and everyone was like, ‘Where did you learn how to do that?’ It’s because of your class. You’re always challenging us and pushing us to find deeper meanings, and I look at everything different now.” 

“Simply stated, Ms. Rebecca Wertz is a teacher whose persistence, sacrifice, passion, and work ethic are a model for not only my staff, but for all high school educators,” said McGuffey HS Principal Mark Bonus. “She has inspired my high school students to embrace the academic challenge and benefits that Advanced Placement offers and then provides them unrivaled support and encouragement along the way. The result is her AP English Language course enrollment has increased by approximately 20 percent from last year and it appears that trend will continue.” 

Bonus and fellow teacher Linda Emeterio noted Wertz’s reflective approach to teaching. 

“We have many conversations about what works and what doesn't work,” Emeterio said. “She understands that education is not a static profession.” 

Emeterio also said students aren’t the only people who benefit from Wertz’s work. 

“The strategies that Becky uses are producing great results, and I am reaping the benefits. How? Many of her students are now in my classroom as seniors,” said Emeterio, who has participated in NMSI’s Laying the Foundation training. “They have solid strategies to decode and analyze both fiction and non-fiction. Since Becky has ‘Laid the Foundation,’ I am able to cover much more content with my seniors.” 

In addition to her teaching duties, Wertz is a College Board AP reader for AP English assessments and she regularly runs AP Language study sessions and mock exams for her students. 

“My hardworking administrators and colleagues keep my inner fire burning,” Wertz said. “I am a learner by nature, but it helps to work with people who push themselves just as hard as I push myself.” 


Lessons from NMSI 

Wertz lauds NMSI’s essay deconstruction materials as invaluable and notes that the materials empowered her to develop additional resources. 

The NMSI lessons helped me understand which type of scaffolding questions I should pose for a given essay prompt. As a result, I created my own deconstruction lessons for the Rachel Carson rhetorical analysis prompt, 2007 synthesis prompt, 1984 rhetorical analysis prompt, and a synthesis prompt on organ donation.” 

She said group deconstruction of rhetorical analysis passages really engage her students. 

“The group deconstruction activities become a text-based treasure hunt of sorts," she said. “It excites me when students make original connections and inferences.” 

Wertz also uses local issues and events to help students connect with historical passages. As an example, before her classes analyzed Florence Kelley’s speech about child labor, she had the students read a current article about child labor on farms. The topic hit close to home because almost all of her students live on a family farm or knows someone who does.  

“This activity helped students tap into their background knowledge on child labor, but it also was an opportunity for their experiences and backgrounds to take center stage. I did not grow up in a rural area, so the students really took the reins of facilitating and building the discussion that evolved.” 

Asked about tapping issues so close to home, Wertz said the value students derive is worth any risk. 

“It’s always that constant balancing act. You have to be the one in charge even if it’s an activity where the students have more of the lead. 

“I come to teaching with a lot of humility and let the students know that I’m a fellow learner. It’s checking my ego at the door and ensuring that they know they have insights that are valuable.” 

Congratulations to Rebecca for inspiring the next generation of problem-solvers!

Know a great teacher who deserves recognition? Email marketing@nms.org to tell us why you think they’d be a great NMSI Teacher of the Month.