For retiring teacher Kris Weller, it wasn’t about the big events or recognitions. It was about the small moments with the students.
It was about knowing she made meaningful connections and built relationships that allowed her to be a more effective teacher.
“It was the many sweet and sincere notes and drawings children took the time to create for me through the years,” said Weller, who’s retiring from Kenowa Hills Central Elementary after 33 years in the profession. “It was the things children innocently said that made you laugh out loud. It was knowing that what I did each day was helping to make a positive difference.”
She definitely made a connection with second-graders Jacob Chapman and Marilyn Burde.
“She’s a nice teacher,” Jacob said. “I’m going to miss her because she’s a fun teacher to have.”
Marilyn said she teaches science really well.
“Miss Weller makes it really fun for us; she lets us touch it and smell it, and do things that normally other teachers wouldn’t let us do,” Marilyn explained. “When people make mistakes she doesn’t really get that mad. She makes funny jokes so people don’t have to be sad that they make mistakes; they can laugh.”
As one of many teachers from area schools saying goodbye to the classroom for the last time, Weller looks back with fondness on those special connections with students that so many of them have shared. And as a teaching veteran of more than three decades, she offers thoughts on how to bring more people into the profession and improve schooling for the students they serve.
Always Wanted to Teach
Weller, who spent a few years teaching in Greenville before heading to Kenowa Hills, said she enjoyed teaching language arts the most.
“I love planning lessons that incorporate various learning styles and where I am able to extend language arts standards across the curriculum to make it more meaningful for students,” said Weller. “Additionally, watching children grow their thinking and learning as readers is also a rewarding aspect of teaching that I truly enjoy. It’s especially gratifying when students who struggle meet or exceed grade-level expectations.”
As far back as she remembers, in her days attending school in Haslett, Weller wanted to be a teacher. She earned her credentials with a bachelor’s degree at Central Michigan University and a master’s at Grand Valley State University.
“I just knew it was what I wanted to pursue,” Weller said. “And as I end my time in the classroom, I know that without a doubt I picked the best profession for me.
“I have fond memories of my years as a student. I had kind and caring teachers and coaches throughout my schooling.”
Beyond the rewards of serving students, she said her other main highlight was working with “incredible people” at both school districts where she worked.
“Your colleagues are like family and I will truly miss the camaraderie we’ve shared over the years. There are also many students whom I’ll never forget because of the impact they had on me as a teacher and in my life.”
What Needs Fixing?
Informed by her many years of teaching and working with children, Weller has a few thoughts to share as she retires, including some challenges in public education.
First, Weller said districts need to find ways to collaboratively address mental health issues more effectively from kindergarten on up.
“We have been seeing an increase in students with mental health issues as early as kindergarten for some time,” Weller said. “While we do whatever we can to meet the needs of these students, the reality is, schools don’t have the specialized personnel to deal with the kinds of issues we’re seeing. At times, we feel helpless knowing all we’re doing simply isn’t enough.
“My hope is that all school districts could partner with healthcare professionals and organizations that specialize in childhood trauma to not only help the children, but support the families as well.”
Teachers need ongoing training on how to best support children in their mental health, she said.
“Our job is not only to teach curriculum. We also have to address the social-emotional growth of our students. A child struggling emotionally has to have those needs met before we can expect them to be fully successful with curriculum standards.”
Second, new ways must be found to encourage people to consider entering her profession, Weller said. In Michigan, the number of students enrolled in college teacher-preparation programs fell by about 70 percent between 2008-09 and 2016-17, according to Title II of the U.S. Higher Education Act.
Third on her fix-it list: “I also wish money didn’t have to drive so many decisions in education and that there weren’t so many mandates. In a perfect world, I wish all students could have the resources and programming they need in the district they reside in.”
Her Advice for New Teachers?
Build relationships with students on day one.
“Know that some children will take more time and effort, but once you’ve established and nurtured these relationships, your classroom will run more smoothly and you will be a more effective teacher,” Weller explained. “I also think being intentional about noticing the little things is important. Greeting your students every morning is a great way to get a sense of how they’re doing.”
Teachers should also spend time with students focusing on expectations and routines, she added: “Don’t be afraid to spend time practicing what appropriate behavior in various settings looks like and sounds like.”
And Advice for Parents?
Partner with teachers, because educating a child is a two-way street.
“Please contact your child’s teacher directly if you have a question or concern, and attend your child’s conferences,” Weller said. “It’s a great opportunity to have a conversation about your child’s progress. It also sends a powerful message to your child that you value school and support their learning.”
As for her retirement, she has an extensive bucket list.
“A few of my top picks are going on an African safari, taking an Alaskan cruise and traveling to some states I have not yet had the privilege of visiting.”