Empowering students: Q&A with Teacher Pledge alum Madeline Abbatacola

The UW–Madison School of Education Wisconsin Teacher Pledge is dedicated to strengthening and diversifying Wisconsin’s teacher workforce. It pays the equivalent of in-state tuition and fees, testing, and licensing costs for all teacher education students who “pledge” to teach for three or four years at a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school in Wisconsin after they graduate.

To date, 556 students have taken the Teacher Pledge — and 226 Pledge alumni are already in classrooms and teaching in 65 school districts across Wisconsin.

To learn just a bit more about the Teacher Pledge and its impact, the School of Education’s communications team reached out to Pledge alumni to get their thoughts.


Madeline Abbatacola earned her MS in curriculum and instruction with the School of Education in August 2022, leading to a secondary science teaching certification. Today, Abbatacola is teaching high school life sciences in northern Wisconsin — from biology to a new anatomy and physiology class. She teaches everyone from freshmen through seniors at Cameron High School, which is located about 225 miles northwest of Madison.

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Chicago and attended an all-girls Catholic High School. My first time in the public education system was college, and then my first student teaching placement.

So you earned your master’s at UW–Madison. Where did you get an undergraduate degree? At UW–Stevens Point. I graduated in December of 2019, right before the pandemic. I got a double major in history and wildlife ecology, and a minor in museum studies.

And you worked for a bit before deciding to pursue becoming a teacher? Yes. And I was chronically indecisive about my major at UW–Stevens Point, but I’ve actually always thought about education. But I’ve worked in a museum doing curation and curating exhibits. I worked with invasive species for a little bit while in college, doing community outreach with aquatic invasive species. And then I worked at a garden center and with people to plan out their gardens and their houses.

Then, we moved to Madison for my husband to go to pharmacy school and I was working at the veterinary hospital — and while I loved the technical side of it, I missed the more human element of just interacting with people and seeing kids and inspiring them to love science as much as I love science. 

So when I heard about the Teacher Pledge, I knew what I wanted to do — and I started working toward being able to share my love of science with young people as a teacher.

How did you end up teaching in Cameron, Wisconsin? Do you have any ties to that area? Actually, no. My husband is from Ladysmith, Wisconsin, which is up north, and he’s in his clinical year of pharmacy school in Eau Claire. So we live in Chippewa Falls and I commute.

And that now that you are in the schools, what do you enjoy most about being a teacher? Every day is so different, and I really enjoy working with the kids and helping them come to their own ideas and conclusions. But I also like the fast-paced environment.

What role did the Teacher Pledge program play in your decision to be a teacher? It was one of the main reasons I started the program. It really was the deciding factor in the end, because I did have quite a bit of loans from undergrad and I didn’t want to accumulate more in such a short time. So really, I thought, “If they’re gonna pay for my tuition fees, why not do it?” Also, at the same time my husband was still in graduate school, so I was our sole income there for a little bit and having that buffer really helped. I’d love for more people to know about the Teacher Pledge. It’s such a great opportunity.

How are things going in the classroom and do you feel like you’re making a difference? I do. I think I’m excited because the kids really wanted a stronger anatomy and human biology course — a lot of the kids from my school end up being CNAs or nurses, and a few go on to be nurse practitioners or PAs. So I really find it rewarding to help push them along and get more knowledge so they can make a better informed choice about their career and be better consumers about their body. But overall, my colleagues here are great. I think the camaraderie is amazing and everyone has the best intentions of helping the students.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you or your journey to becoming a teacher? I had some awesome teachers who made me really feel empowered and feel like I had a stake in my own education, and I hope at some level my students feel that way about me. You know, I recognize they’re not all going to be biologists or physicists, but I hope they can feel empowered and strong in their own identity once they leave my classroom.

Supported completely by generous donors to our School of Education, the Teacher Pledge won’t solve the teacher shortage by itself — but enrollment numbers are showing it is helping incentivize students to enter our teacher education programs. Will it continue to show promise? University researchers are studying this pilot of the Teacher Pledge to find out, and the School will share key findings that could help aid efforts around Wisconsin and across the nation in building a stronger teacher workforce.

Learn more about the UW–Madison School of Education Wisconsin Teacher Pledge.

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