Back to School
From A Teacher's Perspective
A final bell rings and a scurry of students rush out of a school building, excited for the freedom of warm summer days spent pool-side, relaxing with friends, and traveling for family vacations.
Even as Oklahoma teachers enjoy a hiatus from the now-vacant classrooms, their students are never far from their minds. This is because, for many educators, teaching is much more than a job.
“Being a teacher is not a career, it’s a calling,” says Amy Price, a pre-K instructor at Twin Hills School in Okmulgee County. “I don’t do it for the money; I do it because I love it.”
Price is one of the thousands of Oklahoma educators who devote their lives to investing in students—teaching them not only academics, but pouring into them as people, walking through life’s struggles with them, and preparing them to shine in the future.
This month, Oklahoma Living features three small-town teachers who consider it a privilege to participate in educating the next generation of Oklahomans.
Price grew up attending a small, rural school, similar to the one where she has taught the past three years. Located on partially paved County Road 300, Twin Hills opens its doors each morning to 350 students in pre-K through eighth grade.
Price, an East Central Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member, says it was a teacher who influenced her decision to go into education.
“I’ve known my whole life, from the time I was in kindergarten, that I wanted to be a teacher,” she says.
Her kindergarten through second-grade teacher, Ms. Jamison, was her inspiration.
“She was the ideal teacher: strict but loved the kids; had high expectations but loved to laugh,” Price says. “She let us know we could do anything and that we were going to get it.”
Though Price enjoys summers at home with her own three children, she looks forward to going back to school each fall.
“I love back-to-school time. It’s very exciting,” she says. “You get a fresh start, a new group of kids, and everything is clean and new.”
Price heads back to the classroom at the beginning of August to arrange and decorate, in anticipation of the students’ arrival a few weeks later. But just because she hasn’t been in the classroom, doesn’t mean her teacher hat has been hanging in the closet all summer.
“I might be physically off, but mentally I’m never away from the classroom. I am always thinking about the kids,” she says. “Everywhere I go, anything I’m doing, I’m taking ideas. We just finished vacation Bible school at church, and anything I see—decorations, games—I use.”
In order to challenge the spectrum of students she encounters each year, Price spends time reflecting on different methods that work best for individual students and learning styles. This year, she is introducing sensory seating in her classroom that will serve some of her students with special needs.
One of Price’s favorite aspects of the back-to-school season is the Meet the Teacher night when kids and parents have their first opportunity to visit the classroom.
“I love Meet the Teacher. I remember with my own kids, going to school for the first time. I came with a long list of questions for the teacher,” she says. “I like to answer all their 10,000 questions and reassure the parents that their babies are going to survive.”
Others recognize how Price’s dedication to serving her students is an asset to her school.
“It takes a special person to be a good pre-K teacher. Not only is Amy a great teacher, but her loving, positive personality makes it a much easier transition for those little 4 year olds. She is always smiling and there’s no doubt how much she cares for her students,” says Twin Hills School Superintendent Gary McElroy. “It is an honor to work with a whole staff that has so much pride in Twin Hills School and cares so deeply about their students, and although Amy Price is one of our newer teachers, with teachers like her that tradition will continue.”
Klayne Brown lives on a small farm outside Mooreland, a. Her summers are spent taking care of the cows and horses—and planning for the school year ahead. Brown is a veteran pre-K instructor at Mooreland Elementary School, having taught for 18 years at Mooreland, and nine years before that.
“I a on school all year, though I try not to go into the classroom from the end of May until later in June,” the a Electric Cooperative member says.
This summer, Brown has been planning new math activities for aa students. She is coming up with ways to help them recognize numbers, understand what they represent, put them in order, and write them. She says she prefers to use interactive teaching methods rather than always sitting at desks with pencils and paper.
“I’m a hands-on teacher,” she says. “I want their hands in and dirty.”
During the summer she also prepares her classroom for the incoming students. This year, the school is doing a “Mon-Stars” theme so she’s creating colorful monsters to decorate the walls.
Brown says her basic lesson plans stay the same from year to year, but she works to add fun activities to help the students learn, like a textured alphabet that kids can pick up and touch—anything that will help them make the connection with their learning objectives.
“I love the interaction with the kids, being able to see their faces when they have that ‘aha moment’ when they understand,” she says. “You can’t put a price on that.”
But being an educator to pre-K students goes beyond teaching letters and numbers. Oftentimes, it means blowing noses, tying shoes, and giving hugs, she says.
One memory that stands out from her teaching career was helping a student work through feelings of sadness and abandonment when her dad joined the army and was stationed far away.
“I sat and held her for hours while she cried,” Brown says.
Brown’s approach to education is making the classroom experience as personal as possible. Each fall, she anticipates the back-to-school time and getting to know a new class of children.
“I look forward to a new group, learning their personalities, their quirks. They’re all wired differently,”she says. “I try to learn their dog’s name, what they call their grandmother. I am as involved in their lives as I can be because I want them to know I truly care.”
Though Brown says that teaching is often a thankless job, she treasures the love the students reciprocate.
“The love you get from the kids at this age is unconditional. Last year I even had a student propose to me,” she says with a laugh. “Teaching is not as easy as people might think, but I love my job; I truly do.”
Others can testify to Brown’s genuine care for her students.
“Klayne is a very caring and dedicated teacher who will do just about anything for her students and those she works with,” says Mickey Gregory, grade school principal at Mooreland Schools. “Her students enjoy her classroom because she lets them know how much she cares about them everyday.”
Adds personal friend Jonna Hensley, member services and communications coordinator for Northwestern Electric Cooperative, “Klayne is a great teacher. She has a big heart and is truly in the profession for the kids.”
For Nicole Hand, a fifth-grade instructor at Wellston Elementary School in Wellston, Oklahoma, teaching means putting energy and passion into inspiring a new generation of students—just as a teacher did for her.
“I’ve known I wanted to be a teacher since I was in second grade,” she says. “My second-grade teacher Mrs. Kimble was fantastic; she made everything fun. I loved going to school and I knew I wanted to spend my life doing that.”
Now in her ninth year of teaching, Hand takes time each summer to reflect on the previous year, determining what worked and what didn’t, and creating a curriculum map for the upcoming semesters. Her goal is to engage students and get them excited about learning.
To that end, she uses a variety of interactive teaching methods. During the Olympics earlier this year, for example, she transformed her classroom to have a winter games theme. The fifth-graders worked in teams to complete math and reading activities, coupled with fun physical challenges. Wrong answers meant time penalties in events like scooter racing.
She also provides her students a variety of seating options—everything from camp chairs and rocking chairs to wobble stools. The choices are intended to help each individual learn in an environment that will be most beneficial for them.
Hand says she looks forward to back-to-school preparations like painting the walls, arranging furniture, refreshing bulletin boards, and creating a welcoming space for new students.
Meet the Teacher night is one of her favorite back-to-school traditions. Since she teaches in a small school, she knows many of the kids before they officially become her students. But she enjoys getting to know the parents and learning more about the kids’ unique interests.
“I love the connections I make with my students,” she says. “I want them to know school is a safe place to come, to be themselves, and to know someone cares about them and believes in them.”
Knowing students on an individual basis helps her to meet each child where their need is. Together they set goals for growth in the areas where they struggle most.
“I want my students to know they can do anything they want if they work hard and believe in themselves,” she says.
Hand’s passion is appreciated by students and administrators alike.
“Nicole is an excellent teacher. She works hard to reach each of her students, meeting each of their needs and interests with compassion and drive,” says Letha Bauter, principal of Wellston Elementary School. “Our students find her excitement toward learning and her own interests inspiring. She creates an energy in the classroom that they love.”
“I really care about these kids. I pour my heart into what I do,” Hand says. “Every student I’ve ever taught has a special place in my heart.”
So as the August heat rolls in, school supplies are re-stocked on supermarket shelves, and backpacks are filled up for a new year, students should know their teachers have spent months planning for and anticipating their arrival in the classroom. Teachers like Price, Brown, Hand, and so many others do it, not because it’s a job, but for the love of the students.