How Wheaton teacher inspires students to become educators

When her students ask what she was like at their age, if she was part of the popular clique, Tiffany Marconi opens up about her high school experience.

Her family had moved a lot, and she remembers being a “little lost.”

“I was just kind of all over the place, and I feel like my teachers in high school really helped me discover who I was and feel comfortable with myself and to feel confident,” Marconi said. “I just feel like Tiffany kind of got her groove thing in high school, and it was because of teachers.”

It’s hard to imagine Marconi, a teacher and a role model herself at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, as a teenage outsider with pink hair. She’s become one of South’s biggest cheerleaders, a proud Tiger who dresses up as the school mascot and bleeds orange and black.

“She just puts herself out there and is not afraid to try new things, not afraid to take risks,” Principal Lorie Campos said.

Among her colleagues, Marconi is admired for her rapport with students. She’s a go-getter who believes “you get out what you put in.” So she was the obvious choice to teach a new course for juniors and seniors, school leaders say.

Marconi was instrumental in building a “Grow Your Own Teachers” program in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200. Through her “Intro to Teaching” classes, Marconi is drawing high school students to the profession at a time when a national teacher shortage makes headlines.

  “If anything, I want them to find that career that they’re passionate about for life,” says Tiffany Marconi, who teaches “Intro to Teaching” for high school students interested in becoming educators. Brian Hill/

“Tiffany just radiates this passion and love for learning and love for kids,” Campos said. “She’s just someone you know just loves her job.”

Teaching future teachers

“Intro to Teaching” had been in the works even before “all the buzz about the teacher shortage post COVID,” Marconi said. This is the second year the district is offering the dual-credit course for students interested in becoming teachers. Students can earn both college credit and high school credit through a partnership with the College of DuPage.

To identify students for the program, Marconi sends a Google form to her co-workers and high school coaches, asking them who has the makings of a teacher. She wants to give those teens something tangible, maybe a postcard inviting them to learn more about the class. Sometimes the small things make all the difference.

“The little details and the little extras can be so impactful, especially for students who aren’t a high flyer,” Marconi said.

One of the goals of the program and others like it is to give teens real-world experiences and opportunities to explore careers while they’re in high school. Marconi’s students work with mentor teachers in District 200 elementary and middle schools. The Intro to Teaching students visit their “field experience” classrooms twice a week. They also spend three full days there throughout the semester.

“Every kid plays school growing up, but when you get to high school, what is it really like to get up and plan lessons and engage students and keep them motivated to learn?” Campos said.

Ideally, the “Grow Your Own” program will inspire students to go off to college and ultimately return to teach in their home district.

“There’s just this passion and commitment and genuineness when you come back to a place that you love and that you feel like you want to give back to your community,” Campos said.

The curriculum is set through the College of DuPage, but Marconi creates a student-centered classroom. At the end of the semester, students design their own classroom — the layout, what assessments they would use — on an individual level and in small groups as a team-based challenge.

Marconi doesn’t gloss over the realities — “all the positives and some of the struggles” — of being a teacher.

“Yes, I would love for all of them to come back and teach,” Marconi said. ”But I just hope honestly that it helps them figure out if they want to be a teacher, and if not, that’s OK. The one thing I always tell my students: You need to find a job, career, something that you love that you wake up every day excited to do it.“

Marconi started teaching in 2006. It’s clear she’s still excited to come to work every day.

“She goes above and beyond. She’s creative. She’s passionate,” Campos said. “She’s so genuine too. Everything she does, she loves doing, and she loves our school.”

Giving back

Ask Marconi when she knew she wanted to become a teacher, when the idea popped into her head, and she doesn’t hesitate: “forever.”

She was one of those kids who would play school with her friends. She would aspire to be like one of her favorite teachers, Mrs. Booker.

“She just made everyone in class feel important,” Marconi said.

Marconi wasn’t the most outgoing kid at her alma mater, Hoffman Estates High School, and she brings that perspective to her job. Marconi tries to give “authentic, genuine compliments” to help students navigate high school.

  Wheaton Warrenville South High School leaders say teacher Tiffany Marconi is inspiring teens to pursue the profession she loves. Brian Hill/

“For my students who are not the most confident or just kind of going along with the motions, I really try to connect with those students to inspire them or show them how awesome they are and how they don’t need to try to fit in and that they’ll just find their people eventually,” Marconi said.

Having “missed out on a lot of things” in her high school years, Marconi is making the most of it now.

Like Booker, Marconi also teaches child development classes. She’s credited with growing enrollment in the “Tiny Tigers” preschool program. As the varsity girls dance coach — the team won a state championship title in 2010 — Marconi choreographs their routines, organizes team trips and coordinates fundraisers. She’s been involved in student council, prom and homecoming.

Marconi has taught culinary arts and offered an online baking club for students during the pandemic. She makes baked goods for the high school staff. She also has taught “Adult Living,” a course in which students learn how to budget and study the stock market.

“I think the most important part of my job is ... just preparing them for life after Wheaton Warrenville South and just making them hopefully a better version of themselves after they leave my class,” Marconi said. “That’s really what I’m passionate about because that’s what my teachers did for me.”

With all her responsibilities, Marconi added “Intro to Teaching” to her busy schedule. It’s her way of giving back.

“Hopefully, with some students who don’t know what they want to do in the future, I just want to open them up and explore the world of education,” she said, “just because I think it’s the most magical career that’s out there.”

Tips from top teacher Tiffany Marconi

1. Have fun ... If you aren't having fun, your students aren't having fun.

2. Set high expectations for your students and yourself.

3. Input = Output. You get what you put into teaching, your students, etc.

4. Teachers can have such a positive impact on their students, so do your best to make it a positive one.

5. Take care of yourself. Teaching is an amazing profession but it is a rough one. Let your weekend, breaks, etc. be YOUR time so you can be your best self in the classroom.

Curriculum vitae: Tiffany Marconi

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University; master’s degree in early childhood from Roosevelt University.

Town: North Aurora

Work experience: Marconi spent one year at Streamwood High School and has spent 17 years in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200.

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