‘Nobody can take our education away’

Teacher finds her way back to Thornapple Kellogg for her own classroom

Kraker makes her rounds during silent reading time

Erin Kraker says she became a teacher for “lots of reasons.”

“Growing up, my dad always reminded my brother and me that nobody could take our education away, that learning is a privilege and a passion,” Kraker said. “I never forgot that lesson and the joy of learning.”

Erin Kraker is in her first year at Thornapple Kellogg Middle School

Though her dad was her first source of inspiration, adult figures throughout her life continued to lead her toward the path of education. That path has taken her to Thornapple Kellogg Middle School, where she also did her student teaching before graduating from Grand Valley State University.

She owes a lot to her former orchestra teacher for helping her get there, she said.

“My teacher had us write a letter about what kind of a career we wanted, and I wrote that I wanted to become an orchestra teacher,” Kraker. “After I turned my letter in, my teacher came up to me and said, ‘Ok, we need to get you on the right path for your goal.’ It meant the world to me that she had read my letter and that she really believed in me.”

Though she did not end up being an orchestra teacher specifically, Kraker did continue down the teaching path. Kraker has a degree in education from Grand Valley State University and is in the process of obtaining her master’s in instruction and curriculum design from her alma mater.

Kraker helps clarify a point to eighth-graders Elliot VanDyken and Jasmin Cruz

Back to the Beginning

Though only in her first professional year at Thornapple Kellogg, Kraker is no stranger to the Middleville community, having completed her student teaching in the district years ago.

“There’s something about TK,” she said. “This school really is a family and a community that is friendly, motivated and energized. There’s a real passion for learning here.”

Currently, Kraker teaches sixth-grade history, eighth-grade language arts and a seventh-grade language arts elective class. Overall, she strives for an environment where students feel comfortable to express their opinions and ask questions.

“We can’t expect perfection from students without thinking of them as people,” she said. “I work toward an empathetic classroom with a strong, social relationship.”

Before each class period, Kraker’s students know to wait at the door for a welcoming fist bump

Due to the curious nature of her social studies and language arts classes,  lively discussions about subject matter are encouraged and frequent, Kraker said.

While talking about the history of segregation in the U.S. during a recent class period, Kraker challenged her students to think about the results of history happening today.

“Think about what life would be like without key characters like the people we have been learning about,” she told them. “We can talk about these people and these events and consider what life was like back then and what has changed for us now.”

Kraker reminds her students in each class to respect the opinions of their classmates while also challenging ideas with facts.

“This is a classroom where we are meant to talk about things,” she said. “We’re meant to learn from each other just as much as the subject matter.”

Kraker puts a schedule up on the projector every day to keep discussions on track

Team Player

For eighth-grader Elliot VanDyken, what’s special about Kraker is that she goes the extra mile.

“She’s really funny and she jokes around with you and helps you a lot,” Elliot said. “I lose everything, so she keeps my book in the classroom for reading time so that I don’t leave it somewhere.”

Kraker’s knowledge of current culture and jokes is another class favorite.

“She kind of gets modern culture, which is fun and different,” Elliot said. “It’s nice to have a teacher that likes some of the same things.”

Kraker completed her student teaching at Thornapple Kellogg and is back in her first year of teaching in her own classroom

Mallory Syren, eighth grade, said that Kraker has the best attitude in the school.

“She’s happy all the time and she uses a bunch of examples to help us learn if we don’t understand,” Mallory said. “She also has this really cool way of telling us to be quiet forcefully without actually yelling.”

Kraker hopes that she can continue to bring real-life examples to the classroom and encourage a relaxed atmosphere that facilitates learning.

“I got into teaching to present information in a way that is fun and creative,” Kraker said. “That’s the great thing about education, it’s here for you to take advantage of — a blessing.”

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Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio or email Hannah.

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