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‘Never one-size-fits-all’: Showing up for each day’s unique challenges motivates this teacher

Why I Teach: Spanish teacher Kelly Grey 

Godwin Heights — If you approach the door to Kelly Grey’s Spanish class at Godwin Heights High School, do not be surprised if you hear laughter coming from within.

“I have so much fun and the students have a lot of fun laughing at me, so that’s the best part,” Grey said. “It’s so cool.”

A teacher for 21 years, 14 of them at Godwin Heights, Grey said she loves the creativity, working with students and the great staff she gets to be with every day. She stepped away from the fun in the classroom for a few minutes to talk to us about teaching. 

What is the thing that gets you up in the morning and excited about teaching? “Obviously the students are what I feel makes (the) job interesting. This is my 14th year at Godwin and every year, it’s something different. You think you got it down and every year, there’s a new challenge.” 

Grey added that the students change but in some aspects they are also the same, as they want to be seen and respected. The first couple of months are the hardest, she said, trying to build relationships with the students along with developing the chemistry in a classroom. 

It’s motivating to be a teacher, she said, “knowing that you show up every day, and you want to make sure you’re a good role model and be a constant in the students’ lives.”

Spanish teacher Kelly Grey looks over a board of past students’ photos with sophomore Shani Valdez-Deleon

What are some of the biggest challenges and how do you strive to meet them? Grey said the two biggest challenges she sees are student apathy and connecting with students so that they all feel seen.

On apathy: “When they have their head down, how do I get them to engage? Trying to figure out what works. I describe it to a group of students and they totally get it, and then next hour, they come in and are like, ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying.’” She said the challenge becomes “scaffolding” her lessons and coming up with new ways to teach the content.  

On connecting with students: “Sometimes it takes a whole year to try to figure out how to make those connections, and it’s never (a) one-size-fits-all (solution). You are trying to make sure you never neglect the quiet students and that you make sure that everybody’s seen. I had a child who was a quiet one … what made the biggest difference for her was the teachers who saw her when she was trying to blend in and not be seen, because you do want to be seen — everybody does — and recognized.”

What are some of the biggest differences in teaching pre- and post-pandemic? “As I mentioned earlier, apathy is always hard, just trying to get kids to buy into why learning is important. … After the pandemic, (student attitudes were) on another level of apathy. I felt like the masks were really hard because you say so much with your face and your smile that can’t be said anywhere else. … It made it hard to make those connections. Teaching a foreign language was tricky, because you’re trying to teach a language through the masks and our students were already kind of retreating. 

Grey said district feels like a family, but coming back from the pandemic was tough because “everybody had to have space and you couldn’t hug people. You couldn’t see their faces and so it just felt very sterile. I just feel those were really tough years to teach because it was very quiet in your classroom and even though the kids wanted to be back, there was still a lot of fear there. 

“I feel like this is the first year that I’m really starting to feel the energy come back.” 

What’s the most amazing thing about teaching Spanish to high school students? Grey said she most enjoys the “evolution” that takes place while getting to know her students and their perspectives. 

“I think it’s beyond Spanish. The students surprise me daily with the insights they have, what they’re thinking. You think they’re not listening, but they’re always listening and they’re always watching, just like your own children.”

Sophomore Shani Valdez-Deleon gets a little help from Spanish teacher Kelly Grey

What would you say to someone considering teaching as a profession? “It is a tough job. It’s exhausting. It’s trying, because you always have to be changing and evolving to work with your students and also work with where education is going. But I think that I would encourage it. I mean, I love my job. Both of our children are going into education. My father was an educator and my brothers are educators. So I come from a family who has a lot of passion for teaching and learning, too.”

What do you like about teaching? “For Spanish specifically, I like the creativity. I love the language. I love that a lot of our students speak Spanish because I’m always learning different things about culture. Language evolves, culture evolves … I also love that I’m the only one that teaches Spanish 2, so each year it changes and it’s been really fun. 

“Also, working with the students and understanding their culture, whether they come from Guatemala, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Cuba (or) Puerto Rico, there’s just always so much information that I can use from them and that we can share.”

Read more from Godwin Heights: 
Senior shines on the soccer field, looks toward to the future
Teacher finds joy in sharing the magic of art

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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