Ms. Neely’s Double Life


Ethan Mullens

Ms. Neely stands in front of an equation she wrote on the window to help students tackle AP Calculus.

Traveling back and forth from Chicago to Ohio every two weeks, one Latin teacher lives a life filled with separation and solitude, yet equally filled with excitement and joy. After a long week of school, most walk, bike, drive, or take public transport into the weekend; this teacher, however, flies into hers. She walks out of school following a long day of teaching AP Statistics to her E block class that never properly listens and heads straight to Midway to hop on her short flight home to Ohio.

After teaching at an independent school in Columbus, Ohio, for over nine years, Michelle Neely was looking for a change. So she began to search for other job opportunities in and around her community. “I looked at other schools in the area, like Columbus Academy, but it was just not my vibe,” Ms. Neely said.

She widened her search to the Midwest and found a boarding school in Michigan that piqued her interest. While it was hard to turn down the lush outdoor facilities and the old, welcoming buildings, she was put off when one of the school’s current teachers said she is the person the school would “call if the toilets back up at 2:30 in the morning.”

Ms. Neely said that “at this stage of my life, I did not want to be in charge of a dorm of kids.” Needless to say, the boarding school in Michigan was off the table.

Widening her scope once again, she came across a job opening at Latin. While she had been to Chicago only once before interviewing and visiting the school, she said, “I felt [Latin] was a really good fit for what I believed in.”

One of her favorite parts about working with kids is traveling with them on different retreats and trips, so she was very interested in the idea of Project Week. In her previous 26 years of teaching, she had traveled with kids every year, apart from when COVID prevented it. “I really do like the Pythagorean Theorem, and calculus is amazing, but having those opportunities to get kids out of their element really appeals to me,” she said.

Ms. Neely decided to say goodbye to her family in Ohio, and move to Chicago to teach at Latin. In 2021, after she moved to Chicago and started at Latin, she quickly became one of the most beloved teachers at the school.

Senior Cameron Woan, who was in Ms. Neely’s AP Calculus class last year and is currently in her AP Statistics class, said that she is “the best math teacher I have ever had.”

Junior Carson Krulewitch agreed. “I think she’s a good teacher, and she makes sure to always keep the class engaged,” he said.

While many find it hard to move away from their family, Ms. Neely has embraced this new chapter with strength and positivity. She visits her family every two weeks, making the separation manageable and “feel like it is not that much.”

Another way she has stayed connected is through technology. “We tend to do a lot of FaceTime dinners, and I now have a pretty active Snapchat account with my daughter,” Ms. Neely said. She also said, “My husband and daughter only spend 20 to 30 minutes a day with each other.” Since they are both busy living their lives, Ms. Neely does not feel like she is missing out on too much at home.

Her daughter, Jo, is currently living in Ohio with Ms. Neely’s husband. Jo is a freshman in high school and also an avid volleyball player. Last year her games were live-streamed, and Ms. Neely was able to watch them, but this year they are not.

Jo agreed that Ms. Neely is not missing out on too much. “It is not much of a struggle since my parents make it very easy to always stay in touch. Also, she does come home constantly, even over short weekends,” Jo said.

Ms. Neely also appreciates that her absence has brought the rest of her family closer together. “I think my daughter and husband have a really good relationship because it has been the two of them, where I don’t know if it would be that strong if I were there. They have to solve problems and deal with each other,” Ms. Neely said.

Jo agreed that she has a different relationship with her dad now. “Me and my dad definitely gained a closer bond,” Jo said. “I find myself telling him more stuff than I do my friends. Throughout my school volleyball season, I would tell him all of the drama, and he just hears everything that goes on in my life now.”

One benefit of being away from her family last year is that it gives Ms. Neely more time to focus on herself and her job, especially during her first year at Latin. “I think being a first-year teacher, no matter how many years you have taught, is exhausting; it’s a lot of work,” Ms. Neely said. She added that a positive of being alone is that it “allowed [her] to do what [she] needed to do.”

Settling into a new role can be challenging, and while it may seem that having a family around you would help with this process, being alone worked to Ms. Neely’s advantage in her first year at Latin.

Ms. Neely doesn’t see herself moving back to Ohio anytime soon. “I do think that we will pull up our roots when my daughter graduates high school,” she said. She followed that up by describing Ohio as “a really nice place to raise kids,” but outside of that, she thinks the state is “a bit dull.” As a result, she cannot picture herself living there for the next few years at least, and when asked if she would return, she jokingly responded, “Have you ever been to Ohio?”