Profile and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Kristi Whitaker Krile was a military brat. Her father was in the Air Force, so she and her younger sister lived all over the world, including Hawaii, Texas, California, England and Ohio. Partly because her father is from Texas, she considers herself a Texan at heart.
Krile met her husband, Steve, when she was 17, got engaged at 19, and married at 21 after she earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Wright State University in Dayton. The couple then moved to Ann Arbor, where they have lived for 23 years.
They have three children. Emily, 19, is a graduate of Pioneer High School who attends Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Son Hayden is a junior at Pioneer and David is in eighth grade at Slauson. Krile says she feels blessed to have what they call a “bonus daughter,” Rachel, who has been Emily’s best friend since she was four. Rachel, 20, is also a graduate of Pioneer and now attends Michigan State.
The family also includes a 65-pound black lab named Molly and a bichon-poodle mix named Bentley. “At any given time our house is full of noisy teenagers and barking dogs and I would not change a thing,” she says.
Krile’s entire 22-year career has been spent teaching at Logan. Though she has taught kindergarten through second grade and also spent a year as the reading specialist, first grade is her passion. “Six-year-olds are my bread and butter,” she says. “There is nowhere else I would rather spend my days than Kriletown.”
What inspired you to become a teacher? Plain and simple: I love little people! They inspire me every day.
Did you have a Plan B? I had no Plan B—ever. I was born to teach six-year-olds and have never considered doing anything else. In the second grade, my mum found me laying awake late one night and asked: “Why are you still up?” I told her: “I was just thinking if Miss Matheney could get better control of our class her job would be easier.” I was seven. The writing was on the wall even then.
Is your mother —whom you call “Mum”— British? She’s from Pennsylvania. We lived outside of London when I was in high school and my family picked up many sayings. I started calling my mom “Mum” because I thought it sounded so much more regal than “Mom” and, well, it stuck. Having moved so much, I have all sorts of saying and phrases. I choose to look at it as having a rich vocabulary!
What do you love about what you do? Six-year-olds see the world through a different lens than adults. I love how they speak the truth good or bad. They are full of wonder. They find joy in the simplest of things—from a good book, a beautiful picture, a yummy snack or a bug crawling across the sidewalk. I love wonder—not to mention that kids are funny! There is not a day that goes by that my little people do not make me laugh.
Can you think of something one of them said recently that made you laugh out loud? Just yesterday during science we were discussing the week’s forecast and I made the comment we might see snow on Wednesday. One of my cuties burst out with, “Oh come on, Mother Nature! Get it together! It is spring, for goodness sake!” I cracked up! Out of the mouths of babes, as they say.
Tell us about Kriletown. Ask any student at Logan and they will say Kriletown is Mrs. Krile’s first grade and the kids in her class are the Krile kids. Kriletown is a special place where we set high goals for ourselves personally and as a group. We cheer each other on and celebrate when we accomplish our goals. We learn together, laugh together and support each other as we grow. We are a big messy group of tiny humans and one big lady. We are a family.
How do you keep students engaged? I am a ham at heart. I will do just about anything to make learning fun. I make everything we do a big deal, from math lessons to new vocabulary words. I present things to the kids as if it is the coolest thing in the world that I am about to share with them. I have found the more excited I am about a topic the more excited my kids are to listen and learn. I use a British or southern accent to keep the kids interested. I throw out all sort of words that are ‘Kriletown’ words like “beautimous” or “fantabulous” when I am talking to them. I dance. I sing. I act like a general nut most days.
What is your favorite and least favorite memory of grade school?
Favorite: For the first time in the fifth grade we switched classes for reading. I was now in a group with children I had not been with the year before. I went up to the teacher at the end of class and told her I thought I was in the wrong place; that I belonged in the lower group. She kindly told me I was exactly where I was supposed to be and she was happy to have me. It had taken me years, but I had finally mastered reading and I was no longer behind the other students. I will never forget how many great books we read that year and I could read them all with no trouble.
Least Favorite: In the sixth grade we moved from Texas to California. In Texas, sixth grade was in the middle school while in California it was still elementary. Sixth grade is a hard age anyway, but to move across the country made it even harder. The second week in my new school the little girl next to me brought a dead cat to school in her backpack. The discovery was shocking, to say the least. But what was more shocking was what I learned about her home life over the next few months. That was the first time I wished I could make a child’s life better.
In your 22 years in AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning? My students are always watching! They are watching my interactions with other children, teachers, and staff. They also hear everything. I am a role model that will continue to teach even after my students leave Kriletown. My students deserve the best I have to give. What I say and how I say it can leave a lasting mark on them.
Describe an average workday. I am up at 5:45 each day. I get ready for my day, make lunches for my boys and me, throw a load of laundry in the washing machine and out the door I go. I stop by Starbucks each morning to treat myself to a grande one pump skinny mocha and they drop my youngest son at Slauson. Through town, I go and arrive at Logan about 8:05. I love the quiet mornings in my classroom. I leave each day set up for the next so I spend the morning working on ongoing projects or examples I am creating.
The bell rings and I open my doors saying good morning to each of my children. It is important for me to connect with each of my students and find out how their evening was. After backpacks and coats are put away, we all start our day with a book. This gives me a chance to go through homework folders and respond to any notes or messages from parents. After attendance is taken, we all gather on the carpet for our morning calendar activities. We end each morning meeting with a story. Storytime is my favorite part of the day. We read books a bit different in Kriletown. We interact with them rather than just read the words and look at the pictures. We make observations and relate books to our lives and the world around us. I love to see my kids get excited about a text. They are so proud of themselves when they make predictions and they turn out to be correct.
The rest of the day is full of reading groups and learning centers, math groups, writer’s workshop, another afternoon story, a morning and afternoon snack, science or social studies, a recess or—in the case of frigid Michigan weather—a bit of free choice time. Then before you know it, we are packing our backpacks and discussing what we are going to share with our families at dinner. After my sweet babies leave, I prep the room for the next day, hop in my car and I am off to be wife and mama.
What’s the last new skill you learned? I have a husband and two boys who are huge gamers. Over spring break my boys taught me how to play Clash Royale. I am not very good but I do have a baby dragon and according to my boys, that is great!
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher? Keep your mouth shut and your ears open your first year. Every building has a culture. Learn yours by observing those around you. Find a buddy you identify and admire. Partner with a teacher you would aspire to be and make them your friend.
In one sentence, can you sum up the Logan culture? Logan is a building full of passionate, dedicated professionals who put the needs of kids first.
Favorite websites: Pinterest. You can find everything from classroom ideas to the latest fashion trends to paint colors for your house. I have spent many hours looking at Pinterest!
Most-used smartphone apps: Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat.
What’s your favorite to-do list manager? Nothing beats a cute spiral bound notebook from TJ Maxx and some colorful Papermate Flair pens. I have a daily to-do list on my desk. I have been known to write something down I have already done just to cross it off the list. Nothing is quite as satisfying as taking my bubble gum pink pen and crossing off an item.
Do you see a difference in your morning students versus the afternoon classes? If so, how do you adjust to that? Six-year-olds have energy to spare morning, noon and night. My kids have only run out of energy once this year after our day-long field trip to Kensington Metro Park. Thanks, Dave Szczygiel!
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? Hugs and hearing “Kriletown rocks!” I have also been known to cry on more than one occasion when one of my struggling readers finishes a running record and rocks it. In Kriletown we call them happy tears and my students know if I cry, I am “over the moon” proud of them.
What have you changed your mind about recently? When my husband bought our TiVo I thought it was a stupid purchase. Boy, did I have to apologize for that one!
What has surprised you most about the profession? I had no idea when I started in the teaching profession the lack of respect there is from the general public. Many in our society still believe teachers work from 9 to 4 and have all summer off. They have no idea I bring a bag of work home each night and work well into the evening after my own children have gone to sleep. I spend the summers reading and researching new ways to present concepts, taking classes and working with colleagues.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? Teaching is not simply a job but rather a calling much like that of a minister or a doctor. Those who are great are constantly evaluating and honing their craft. Teaching is simply the most important profession on the planet! If it were not for teachers, we would not have great doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientist, or artists. Every profession exists because of a teacher.
How do you recharge? I have a wonderful, funny family who listens to all my stories about my tiny humans, both good and bad. I have an amazing group of girlfriends who keep me grounded and make me laugh until I cry. I love to lose myself in a good book or snuggle up on the couch with my daughters when they are home from school and watch a good chick flick.
Do you have any embarrassing teaching moments you’re willing to share? A few years into my career I had a very lovely mother suggest she wouldn’t mind being the editor of my weekly Krile Kronicle. I sheepishly re-read some earlier additions and realized just how many typos and grammatical errors I was producing. I promptly promoted my husband to editor and gained empathy for my kids who don’t always double-check their work.
How do you spend your summer break? My family and I head out of Ann Arbor for at least a week each summer. Some years it is the beaches of North Carolina or Florida. Other years we visit good friends in Austin or family in Pittsburgh. This year we are heading to Banff, Canada. No matter where we go, we look for new adventures. I want to make as many memories as possible with my kids before they grow up and have families of their own. After our family vacation, you will find me with my nose in a ‘mommy’ book underneath an umbrella either on my deck or by the pool at Liberty. I don’t read much for pleasure during the school year so I make up for it in the summer!
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life? The accomplishments of the Little Krile Kids are always the most exciting part of my profession for me. To get a front row seat each year to what they have learned is an amazing gift. I can point to the day a student learned to read or when they first truly learned what it means to add and subtract. Very few people get to witness the growth of a little human like I do.
The most exciting thing in my personal life – well – the answer is very similar, watching the BIG Krile kids grown into amazing people. With each season of life brings new joys and I am loving this season with my crazy teens. I am so incredibly proud of the people they are becoming.