by Rachel Johnson
I remember so many of my favorite teachers from my school days – Mrs. Denker in second grade, Mr. Hamilton in sixth grade, Mr. Aquino in high school, Dr. Banks and Elizabeth Godburn in college. Truth be told, I can’t remember the lesson plans they prepared, the books we read, or the tests we took. No, the things I remember most about these teachers is that they treated me kindly, invested in me wholly, and shaped me into the woman I am today.
Teachers are essential to character development, which is why it’s so great that I get to feature a beautiful friend of mine, Kyla Kiser, in this post. She teaches at a school for children with learning differences, and she has many inspiring insights to share.
Q: Kyla, I am oh-so-proud to feature you on Wonderfully Made’s blog. You are one of my most wonderful friends, and I admire your honesty, loyalty, and, of course, your fabulous sense of humor. I am also so struck by your commitment to your work as a fifth grade teacher for children with special needs. Tell us about your work and your school.
I am a fifth grade teacher at The Hill School of Grapevine in Grapevine, TX. It’s a private school for kids with average to above average intellect who learn differently. Most of our students have learning differences, and, as teachers, we are given the challenge to equip them with the skills and strategies necessary to succeed.
Q: You’ve had a lot of experience teaching, especially for such a young age. You started teaching right out of college when you traveled abroad to teach English in Rwanda, Africa. Tell us about that time in your life, and how it shaped your decision to teach when you returned to the States.
I can’t say enough about how much I loved the teaching experience I had in Rwanda. I would recommend teaching internationally to anyone and everyone. After I graduated from college, I volunteered for one year at a brand new American school called Kigali International Community School. There were nine boys and girls in my fourth and fifth grade classroom, and the group as a whole represented six different nationalities. It was fascinating to me, as a first year teacher, to learn so much from my students. Despite their different cultural backgrounds, worldviews, and upbringings, they were all so similar. It was a great foundation for my future as an educator.
Q: When did you know that you wanted to be a teacher? Was there an exact moment that you can pinpoint, or did you discover this passion over time?
I would definitely say my desire to teach grew over time. I wasn’t quite sure what I would be doing with my life when I started college. I have a twin sister and the one thing I did know for sure was that I couldn’t share one more thing. So I set out to find my own major. When she settled on nursing, I jumped into education. I’ve always enjoyed working with people and I was blessed enough to fall into something that I love immensely.
Q: Working with children all day is no doubt a challenging task. What is the most difficult part of your job?
There’s always something to do – something to check off the ever-growing to-do list, something to grade, something to send, something to implement to ensure that my lesson is more dynamic, etc. I have had to learn a lot about balancing my life with my work. I’m still learning about that.
On days when I especially need to be reminded why I teach, I pull out my special folder. I have a folder that I’ve labeled “Reasons Why I Teach.” It includes sweet notes and hilarious work samples that I’ve collected over the years from my students. I could look through my folder for days.
Q: Conversely, what is the most rewarding part of your job?
THE KIDS. I have always worked in classrooms where there is a small student-teacher ratio – I have never had more than 11 students in one class. With class sizes this small, I’ve had the great opportunity of really getting to know each one of my children. It’s even more fun keeping in touch with them as they move forward.
Q: The children must impact you so powerfully. Granted, there are tough days, but overall, you always talk about how they inspire you. How have the children in your classes shaped your faith and your view of God?
I believe that my students are motivated when they know that their teacher cares for them on a personal level. They have to believe that I want what’s best for them. In the same way, I have to believe that God has my best interest at heart, that he loves me deeply, and that he cares for my future. I don’t have to do anything to earn his love, and my students shouldn’t have to do anything to earn mine, either. It’s a great reminder of God’s grace.
Q: What has God revealed to you about yourself over the course of your teaching career?
I’m passionate about what I do, and I know that God had a plan for me when he sent me down this path. For me, being a teacher is not about spoon-feeding my students knowledge – it’s about helping others find ways to learn what they need to know. I teach ways to learn and try to impart the desire to know more. When I can learn from my students, that’s a great blessing, too!
Q: What advice would you give to women interested in becoming teachers, whether domestically or internationally?
No matter where you choose to teach, kids are still kids. This quote rings true, and I’d share it with anyone considering becoming a teacher, whether domestically or internationally: “In 20 years, your students won’t remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you made them feel.”
Is there a special teacher you had growing up who you simply can't help but remember? What made that teacher memorable to you?