By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Kristen Smith grew up in Alma, Michigan and attended Alma High School. She then moved to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan and earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. After graduation, she moved to Chicago and earned a master’s degree in reading from Northeastern Illinois University.
Smith spent nine years as an elementary classroom teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. She then moved back to Michigan and worked as an instructional coach for two years in Dearborn. She is now in her second year as Lawton Elementary’s building literacy expert.
Smith lives in Ann Arbor with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Bo. When she’s not at Lawton, Smith loves to spend time running or working out, enjoying all of Ann Arbor’s parks and restaurants, traveling, and enjoying time with her family and friends.
What was always written on your report card in grade school?
My report card comments always reflected my enjoyment of learning and participating in school activities. I loved to read and help in the classroom and always wanted to be a leader. My teachers often pointed out my enthusiasm for being social and that at times I worked just a bit too quickly in order to have more free time to talk with friends.
When you recall your first year of teaching, what stands out?
I have vivid memories of my first year of teaching and what I learned about myself and my students. I was hired just three days before the school year started to teach 6th grade (a grade level I had very little experience with) and felt like I was in “survival mode” for the entire year. To be completely honest, there were many days that I would look at the clock and wonder how I would make it to the end of the day.
The challenges of this first year taught me several things that I have carried with me over my last 13 years in education. First, our students don’t need a perfect teacher, but they do need a teacher who cares about them and can create an inviting classroom community that makes learning accessible and enjoyable. Second, organization is key to a successful year. Without organization, management and instruction can feel very overwhelming.
Finally, I learned that sometimes you just have to laugh. Being a teacher is an incredibly hard job and there are so many pressures and situations that are out of our control. Despite this, we need to remember to take a few moments to step back and enjoy our students and their unique personalities, otherwise, we will miss so much of the joy that teaching can bring.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love my job because I spend each day helping others. I get the opportunity to guide learning and inspire a love of reading. I get to be part of a community of learners and collaborate with teachers as we plan the best ways to reach and connect with our students. There is no better feeling than seeing the look on a child’s face when he or she feels like a successful reader or seeing the excitement of a teacher when his or her students are making progress.
What’s the best compliment that anyone could give you?
The best compliment I could be given is that I have positively affected someone’s life. Whether this was by being helpful or kind, or simply by being a smiling face, I hope I can be someone that others respect and feel they can come to at any time for support.
Describe an average workday.
My workday usually begins by organizing for the day. This includes planning and preparing for groups of students I will see, meetings I have with teachers, and any professional development sessions I am working on. I then head outside to help with morning bus duty and to greet students as they enter the building. The rest of my day is filled with a variety of different activities and no one day is the same. I meet with groups of students to provide reading intervention, collaborate with teachers to support planning and instruction, and meet with other Literacy Experts to plan for or provide professional development. My day ends back outside to help our students safely make their way home. I usually spend another hour at school catching up on emails, meeting with teachers, or planning for upcoming instruction.
How can a parent help a child love to read?
Read aloud as much as possible! Sharing books with your child is the most important thing we can do to promote a love of reading. Children love to choose their own books and read-aloud time should be focused more on creating an enjoyable experience rather than practicing reading skills.
What are your favorite children’s books?
I am constantly adding to my list of favorites as more and more books are published. Currently, my favorites include Thank You, Omu!, The Day You Begin, and White Water. My favorite books tend to be those that promote great conversation around the issues children face in the world.
What is the happiest part of your day?
I absolutely love the morning when the day is new and stretches before me. Personally I love morning time for working out, preparing for the day, and drinking coffee. Professionally, I love seeing all of the students arriving excited to learn and enjoy the buzz of the building as everyone gets ready for a successful day.
I love the website Imagination Soup, which provides curated books lists for kids of all ages. I also love to procrastinate by looking for recipes (that I will probably never make!) on Pinch of Yum and Cookie + Kate.
How do you recharge?
I recharge by enjoying time with my husband, friends, and family. I love to run, spend time outdoors, cook, read, and travel whenever I get the chance.
How do you spend your summers?
My perfect summer day would involve as much time outdoors as possible with lots of travel and time to catch up with friends and family. As much as I love to relax and travel in the summer, I also like attending professional development for myself and leading workshops for teachers. Summer is a great time to work on small projects or learn something new while I have the free time.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
I wish everyone realized how incredibly hard teachers work to balance the ever-growing responsibilities of their jobs. Teachers spend countless hours outside of the actual school day to make sure their students arrive daily to a classroom that is ready for learning. Teaching is truly a passion and requires a great deal mentally and emotionally each day.
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now?
One of the things I am most excited about professionally right now is the bookroom at Lawton. We have spent many hours this summer to redesign and reorganize this space so that it better meets the needs of our teachers and students. We are just days away from the grand opening and it will be incredible to see all of our efforts come to life.
If you could talk to your teenage self, what would you say?
I would tell my teenage self the same thing I am still telling myself today. This would be to slow down more often and enjoy the little moments of life. So often I am in a rush to get the next thing done or to work towards the next goal that I forget to give myself a chance to just relax and be thankful for the many wonderful things I have in my life.
How do you show school spirit?
I show school spirit by participating in and planning events for families at Lawton. It is so much fun to see how excited our students are to bring their family members to events like Literacy Nights, the Runathon, or the Ice Cream Social.