Krystine’s KIPP Teachers
KIPP has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. I had some of the most amazing teachers any kid could dream of having; KIPP legends like Isaiah Spann, Sam Lopez, Jenn Dewhirst, Dena Garcia, Denise Swisher, Dan Caesar, Elliott Witney, Julene Mohr, and Richard Barrett.
I learned so much from my time at KIPP, I couldn’t even begin to put it into words. It was the intense dedication of those teachers that I appreciate most. They wanted to not only make sure we made it to and through college, but that we were good people too.
I was that kid who talked too much in class, but had A’s. I never could have known how annoying that must have been until I became a teacher. I made sure to apologize to them once I got a taste of it for myself. It made me appreciate my teachers that much more. I appreciate every day that my coaches encouraged me on the basketball court. I am grateful for every overnight camping trip and the amazing end-of-year trips.
Who would agree to a 14-hour bus ride and a week in Utah hiking and climbing mountains with a bunch of 6th graders? Who would volunteer to take a train along the east coast with a bunch of 7th graders for two weeks? We visited so many universities, museums, and other historically significant sites in my time at KIPP. I do not know when else I would have seen a show on Broadway, or seen an experiment demonstrated at MIT, or seen Al Capone’s cell at Alcatraz. When I hear certain songs (Eagles’ Hotel California, TLC’s Waterfalls, John Lennon’s Imagine, Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror), I cannot help but think of Songfest each week. When I see a Wendy’s, I think about a melting chocolate frosty and cold fries and fondly remember waiting for the whole school to get their food before we ate at Saturday school.
After KIPP I attended The Kinkaid School and graduated in 2005. I then attended Rice University. I became a Teach for America Corps member and started teaching at KIPP Spirit in 2009. I now live in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
My favorite thing about teaching is the bond with the kids. I started off teaching at KIPP Spirit and I still keep in touch with many of my students. I love the conversations I get to have with kids, and the impact I know those conversations have. I love watching students’ character develop, and seeing how much they grow and mature in as small of a timeframe as several months.
The hardest part of teaching for me is letting go of a group of students after a year of getting to know them. I think of my students as my kids, and it is difficult to pass those kids on to another teacher.
I used to watch a lot of House Hunters International. My husband and I would talk about the interesting places people were going. One day he came across a website with international teaching jobs and sent me a link. I hadn’t given too much thought to living abroad, but I was ready for something new and challenging, and it was the perfect opportunity. There was a job available in Abu Dhabi teaching 6th grade math under the new school model that they were implementing. I would have the opportunity to teach their new curriculum, and be a part of the evolution of education in the United Arab Emirates. I applied immediately.
Much like in the USA, the location of a school determines what kind of funding it gets. Schools closer into the city tend to have better technology, newer facilities, and more extracurricular activities available to students. The public school in which I teach is further out of the city, so we have fewer resources available.
My KIPP lessons are so engrained in me that I carry them everywhere I go. My KIPP teachers, along with my parents of course, ensured that when I left KIPP I had strength of character. A little voice in the back of my mind always reminds me to work hard and be nice.
I’m constantly challenging myself to raise the bar. If I have a problem I look for a solution. I ask for help if I need it, and offer it if a teammate needs it. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from KIPP is just how powerful knowledge really is. I learned that I am capable of climbing mountains. There have been many difficult challenges that have come my way, but I always manage to conquer them. The harder life’s challenges get, the harder I work, and the bigger the payoff.
The next greatest lesson I learned is that I am part of a team and family, and no amount of distance or time can change that. Any KIPPster could call me up and ask for a favor, and if I had the means I would help however I could. I know that there is a support system that grows bigger and bigger each year, and I feel honored and blessed to be a part of it. This is why I became a teacher. If I can have even a tenth of the influence on some students that my KIPP teachers had on me, I will know I have played a small role in changing the world.
I believe educators are very much undervalued. These are the people who are teaching the next generation of teachers, doctors, lawyers, rocket scientists, politicians, philanthropists. It is a huge responsibility, and is largely taken for granted. People do not become teachers for the paycheck. We do it because we believe in education. We believe that knowledge is power, and we want to help mold young minds. We want kids to be excited about learning; we want them to be life-long learners and to go on to do great things and be great people. If we want kids to see how important education is we should treat educators with more respect. In some cultures educators are highly revered and well paid, and as a result you get many of the best and brightest people not only becoming teachers, but remaining in the profession. I felt valued as a teacher working at KIPP, but after working in the public school system in Georgia, I was ready to leave the profession. A lot of teachers come here because they feel undervalued in the states. I really hope that changes in the near future. I came to Abu Dhabi with the hopes of contributing to a new growing school system, and affecting some change in education here.