Alumni Spotlight: Alli Unger Continues Lutheran Teaching Legacy
Alli (Meineke) Unger follows in the footsteps of many great examples and role models before her in her career as a Lutheran School teacher and counselor.
BY Chris Loesel
What have you been up since graduating from Lutheran High?
After graduating from Denver Lutheran in 2003, I went to Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW) where I pursued a Bachelor Degree in Secondary Education with an emphasis in Mathematics.I also participated in cross country and indoor and outdoor track at CUW. I met my husband, Dan Unger, through our participation in cross country. We were married in June of 2008.
Since graduating from CUW in 2007, I’ve been teaching in the Detroit area. I began my ministry at St. Luke Lutheran School in Clinton Township, MI, where I was the 6th grade homeroom teacher, 6th-8th grade math teacher, 5th-8th grade P.E. teacher and Athletic Director.
I am currently teaching math at Lutheran High School Westland (LHWL) in Westland, MI, where I began in 2010. I have the pleasure of teaching with both my husband and my father-in-law (the three of Ungers make up the Math Department). I’ve had the opportunity to coach cross country, which I LOVE. And I have also picked up some of the responsibilities of the Guidance Department as I’ve been working through graduate school.
I will (finally) be graduating with a Master’s Degree in School Counseling from CUW in May of 2018, and I plan to continue my ministry at LHWL teaching math and as the Guidance Counselor. My husband, Dan, and I are blessed with three children: Kara (6), Dathan (3 ½), and Max (2). Both Kara and Dathan attend a Lutheran grade school in the area where I am happy to say they learn about Jesus every day!
When did you know you wanted to be a Lutheran school teacher and what led you to pursue that path?
When you’re growing up, you’re always asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I was in grade school I wanted to be a nurse which then transitioned into a pediatrician, but by the time I was in 9th grade, I had decided I wanted to be a Lutheran school teacher.
That decision was certainly impacted by the incredible examples, leaders, and witnesses I had in my teachers throughout Lutheran grade school and also my attendance at Denver Lutheran High School as well as the fact that both my parents are Lutheran school teachers.
Two teachers who had a significant impact on my decision would be Mr. Brandhorst, who was also one of my track coaches, and Mr. Block who I credit with my decision to become a math teacher. Both individuals had such a passion for teaching, and made it apparent that they truly loved what they did. I was never doubtful of their faith, and they exemplified their witness in class and through the chapels they led.
What are the biggest challenges and rewards you experience as a high school teacher/counselor?
I think that some of the biggest challenges for me come in the form of time. We have so many things that need to be done, and there just doesn’t seem to always be time for them. There is this misconception that teachers have it so easy because they have the summer off, but teachers bring a lot of work home with them throughout the school year, and often the summer is spent going to workshops or pursuing opportunities/education to ensure that they become better educators.
Don’t get me wrong, I love having the opportunity to have 8 weeks off of school, but during the year, there are many times when I feel as though I simply don’t have enough time to complete all I need to. And, while I may not be making as much money as my public school counterparts, the Lord has always provided for us. We have had times in our (relatively short) careers where it’s been tight, and it’s been paycheck to paycheck, but we’ve always made it. I don’t think that’s a coincidence-that’s the Lord providing for us.
The greatest rewards come in the relationships I am able to build. I love when a student comes back to LHWL to visit and they share their joys (and sometimes their challenges) with me. I very much value the relationships that are built with current students as well.
As I transition into the Guidance Counselor role, however, I am teaching less. And I miss that! I like having kids in class every day where I have the opportunity to talk with them, and also the opportunity to share my faith with them. Coaching is also an awesome part of my job. I truly enjoy having the opportunity to run with my students and teach them skills through cross country that translate to success in life - specifically perseverance, determination and grit.
What did you value most about your time as a student at Lutheran High?
I really appreciated all of the opportunities I had to get involved. I ran cross country and track sophomore through senior year, and played basketball my senior year. I was also in the band for the three years I was at DLHS through which I had the opportunity to travel to Southern California and Hawaii on band tour. I made a lot of friends through those experiences.
I was also very proud of the fact that my dad, Dave Meineke, graduated from DLHS. I was proud to be a legacy in the school. And the fact that I was “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” through both teachers and peers enabled me to mature spiritually. Mr. Parrot’s senior bible class played an integral part in my faith walk. I credit him with transitioning me from thinking “this is what my family believes” to “this is what I believe”, which I believe is priceless. No amount of tuition can meet the value of eternal salvation.
How did Lutheran High prepare you for college and your future career?
I was very well prepared for college. I would say many of my general education classes were review for me because the content had been covered in high school. I was able to see many people as leaders in our school and how that position was appealing to me.
Additionally, I was held to a high standard which pushed me to perhaps strive for greater goals than I would have initially thought possible. Lutheran High taught me good work habits and that leads to success in both college as well as any career. But more than anything, I think that my experiences at Lutheran High prepared me for a life of service.
With the gift of hindsight, how has your faith guided you through life?
I think in many areas my faith has provided me with a foundation. Internally it has impacted me in the ways I react to both the joys and sorrows I’ve experienced throughout my life. It provides me with a place to turn to particularly in those times of sorrow but also those times of joy.
Through my experiences with other faithful saints, I was able to recognize the importance of surrounding myself with other faithful people. Yes, we also have the responsibility of sharing our faith with those who don’t know the good news, but for our own faith walk it is important to be around others who will help build you up in your faith and encourage you to grow and mature in your faith.
Externally it has impacted the way I interact with others. Through my own actions, I can be a witness to the hope I have been given. Recently we experienced a miscarriage, and my sister shared a devotion with me that gave me a new perspective on suffering. It said, “When you reach the end of your life and prepare to enjoy eternity with God, your chance to showcase his glory on earth will be over.
This is your highest calling and greatest opportunity-to glorify God with everything you are. Proclaim the goodness and glory of God through your weakness today.” These sentences really gave me a new perspective. I think that as an educator, I have the opportunity to witness to my students, and one of the best ways is to be “real” with them. We all experience weakness and vulnerability, but the awesome thing is that we are all made perfect through Christ!
Is there any advice you would like to offer to the current and future students of Lutheran High?
Take advantage of the opportunities you have to get involved. Don’t be reluctant to try out for something-you might be surprised! And you also will probably make some of your best friends through the extracurricular activities you get involved in. But most importantly, cling tightly to your Savior and surround yourself with people who will encourage your faith to grow...not just now, but for the rest of your life.
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