Wheeler is proud to announce that its faculty and staff have selected Upper School English Teacher Annie Funnell P’14, P’16 as the next Jason and Carly Siperstein Master Teacher Chair. Ms. Funnell was surprised during a recent morning class when Head of School Allison Gaines Pell P’23, P’25 and several past Siperstein Chairs, including Hamilton School 4th-Grade Teacher Megan O’Hara P’13, Lower School Teacher of Spanish Lupe Vivier P’12, and 6th-Grade Teacher Philip Hall delivered the news, along with her son Zander Schmidt ’16 and husband Bob Schmidt P’14, P’16, who are both Upper School Science teachers.
Ms. Funnell said she was “flabbergasted” by the surprise announcement, and she initially assumed it was part of a birthday celebration for one of her 9th-graders.
“I still feel the urge to apologize for not being worthy, but in the weeks since that classroom visit, I have been thinking more about how I should focus on treasuring the generosity of my colleagues for this recognition,” she said. “It really is an honor.”
As AGP described, the Jason and Carly Siperstein Master Teacher Chair recognizes the school’s most cherished resource–its talented and dedicated faculty–while highlighting the tangible impact that philanthropy can have directly on teachers’ lives. The chair, which was created and funded in 2005 by alumni parents Gary and Mynde Siperstein P’03, P’06 in honor of their children, provides a three-year stipend for a faculty member voted on by their colleagues.
The recognition is one of great personal importance for Ms. Funnell, as well. “It also means a great deal because I had the opportunity to teach Jason ’03 and Carly Siperstein ’06, and I was on the advising team for both of their legendary classes, so I have very fond memories of them which have made their family’s commitment to supporting the faculty at Wheeler even more meaningful,” she said.
Ms. Funnell is now in her 29th year at Wheeler. She has served in a number of roles over that time, including as a class dean for many years, but Ms. O’Hara said there was no doubt that Ms. Funnell’s position as an English teacher was “nearest and dearest to her heart.”
Ms. Vivier described her as “passionate, humble, and dedicated to the pursuit of reading and writing. She loves books, but Ms. Funnell is more to the Upper School than all of these things. She reminds us of what it means to be in a community, how you should treat each other, and how we support each other.”
Upper School English Teacher and Department Chair Marco Rodarte also praised Ms. Funnell. “It is difficult to encapsulate just how incredible it is to have Annie as a colleague, officemate, and friend,” he said. “The boundlessness of her generosity extends towards students and faculty alike. Every week that has passed since I’ve known her has benefitted from her advocacy, support, and thoughtfulness. Whether discussing the value of writing your own stories with committed presence or advising us as advisors, we can’t help but know her full heart is behind everything.”
Ms. Funnell said she jokes about being “in school” her entire life, as almost everyone in her family is an educator and she spent her childhood living on school campuses. “Though I hadn’t planned to pursue the family ‘business,’ growing up around so many teachers made it hard to imagine that any other profession could be as essential or as rewarding.”
She said the most important thing a teacher can do is show kids how much they are cared for.
“For me, that has meant being committed to literally showing up for them every day, not just in class, but at their games, their concerts, their performances, their meets, their matches, their movie nights, their dances,” she said. “It has also meant sharing with them that it is truly a privilege to have the opportunity to read their writing, to hear their stories, to watch them develop more confident voices. I am certainly not alone in making an effort to be present for kids beyond the classroom, but I suspect that is an aspect of my approach that might have been noted by my colleagues, rather than any particular magic happening in my classroom.”
Ms. Funnell thanked the Wheeler community for their support and recognition, which she considers a tribute to her whole family’s investment in the school, “with a combined 64 years of teaching here—Bob’s 32, my 29, and Zander’s three—not to mention both of our boys having each spent 15 years as students. Wheeler has definitely been our second home.”