Featured Teacher Karlee Hunt - July 2019


Karlee Hunt has taught the third graders at Little Elementary in the Denver suburb of Arvada, CO for four years. The school is named for John R. Little, who neither of us know much about, but it’s also actually somewhat little and even shrunk a bit last year. The district opted to move sixth grade students and teachers into middle school. Change is stressful but necessary for evolution. Outside of the logistical considerations needed to achieve that task over summer break though, the idea sounds practical. Spreading out the students to optimize resources makes sense for facilities, administrators and students. 

Further, the teachers at Little are all shifting to different grades this year. Karlee is moving to second grade. She says second and third graders don’t focus as much on standardized testing as the fourth and fifth graders, which would be a big modification for her. She’s ready for the adjustment but will miss working with her teammate who taught the other third grade class across the hall. I asked if the school mandates a team approach to teaching and she told me “No, but it’s logical and effective.” I might’ve asked a dumb question there because, of course, all the teachers would benefit by working together.

Oh, and Karlee and her husband, John, are having their first son, Grafton, in a couple of weeks. (Interesting anecdote: picking names can be harder for teachers because they know a lot of kids with a lot of names and they might want their own kid to be independent of those associations. I definitely hadn't thought of that.)

She has a lot of things in flux this summer, obviously.

We talked about why she became a teacher because I never tire of the variety of reasons and stories that lead passionate teachers to their careers. Karlee said she told her mom in early elementary school that she wanted to teach. She mentioned that she was babysitting as early as ten years old and that the plain and simple reason for her interest is “I just like kids.” A top five answer right there, I think.

Exactly contrary to last month’s Featured Teacher, Karlee focused her degree in Special Education but took a third grade spot because it offered a continuous position, a more secure option in Colorado. This has worked out well because she has the ability to engage one-on-one but enjoys the group learning design. “Engagement” was actually her response when asked about her favorite trending topic in education. She really enjoys helping her kids find ways to take ownership of their learning and goals. She also says you have to adapt to the more student-centered approach these days because society has shifted away from the authoritarian role of teachers in classrooms. If you try to spend the day orating they’ll probably tune out and never develop respect for the effort. I don’t feel like she learned this from a college course; I think she just figured it out.

I’m continuously impressed with all the teachers I talk to, including Karlee, but recently I considered that these interviews are pretty biased. Who would recommend I talk with a half-hearted teacher? No one probably. Karlee and I discussed that also. I said “I feel like everyone I speak to is exceptional but aren’t there some crummy ones?” She replied “probably, but they don’t often start out that way.” We got to talking about how you earn your degree and certificate but you really aren’t prepared for the realities of public education, and some people rise to the challenge while others can doubt their career selection. Budgetary restrictions, impoverished students, student anxiety on the rise, parents who don’t participate, parents who participate far too often, regulatory changes, standardized testing, bullying and liability are just some of the issues facing teachers. Is the reward worth the risk in the long run? Karlee admits that she has wondered if she can keep up the passion and energy for 25 years as she raises her kids and maintains her life on the side.

I’ve heard the term "teacher burnout" quite a few times. Apparently this is a common affliction over the course of a year, like in October and March, but also throughout a career. And I realized listening to Karlee that the teachers get their energy from the students and vice versa, so the effects of a long, arduous month are amplified from all directions. It’s a wonderfully rewarding job because it's difficult.

Having a child and preparing to raise him into a happy and capable person gives you a lot of perspective. It’s an appropriate time to analyze and consider your options. I understand why Karlee is mulling over these questions at this juncture, though I think she is far from the burnout stages. She’s just thinking it through. But like she told me, she just likes kids, and that won’t change.

If you want to focus on improving engagement in your class, try our course Building an Engaging Collaborative Classroom.

If you’d like to nominate a Featured Teacher for the future send details in an email to featuredteacher@connectinglink.com.

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Ike Martinson
Ike is addicted to life in the Pacific Northwest. He enjoys the mountains, the lakes, the food, the people and all the seasons. He is an amateur chef, a commercial pilot and a terrible painter.

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