Photos and profile by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Jenny Szalay was born and raised in Ann Arbor and attended Allen, Tappan, and Huron High. She feels very fortunate to teach in the community in which she grew up.
Szalay has taught kindergarten in Ann Arbor for 28 years—27 at Lawton Elementary, where she did her student teaching. She spent her first year of teaching at Carpenter Elementary School, where she taught part-time kindergarten. She received both her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and master’s degree in early childhood education from Eastern Michigan University.
She lives in Saline with her husband, Kurt, whom she’s known since first grade at Allen School. The couple started dating during their senior year at Huron and will celebrate 29 years of marriage in July. Their son Kyle, 23, is a senior in college while daughter Kari, 18, will graduate from Saline High on Sunday.
When she’s not at school, Szalay enjoys spending time with my family and friends, and vacationing to warm places where there are beautiful beaches and water.
Do you recognize students you taught 20 years ago? Do you remember their names? Absolutely! In fact, I was at Costco this past weekend with my mom and pointed out to her a student I had in kindergarten and not only did I remember his name but his mom’s name too. I love to see former students out in public and talk with them. They are always so surprised that I remember them and even their names. The best is when I see a former student and I say hello to them before they see me. The look on their faces is priceless. That is one benefit of teaching in the Lawton community for my whole career. I have been fortunate to be the kindergarten teacher for many families having taught all their children. I can think of one family in particular where I was the kindergarten teacher for all five children. Not a lot of people can say they have done that!!
What is your first memory from school? My kindergarten teacher at Allen School, Mrs. Kipp. To this day I can close my eyes and see her and my classroom at Allen School. I remember rest time on our little carpets, the big easels for painting, listening to stories and singing songs. What fond memories! Kindergarten is a lot different these days but my hope is that my students will always remember their kindergarten teacher with fond memories.
In your 29 years in AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning? I believe it’s the positive relationships and trust that you build with your students that allow you to teach and for them to learn to the best of their ability. Everyone is able to learn but it’s that relationship and trust that is so important to their success.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? My ultimate goal as a kindergarten teacher is to educate, motivate and inspire my students to love learning. It is important to me that each and every one of my students know that they are cared for and are special to me while in my class and throughout their time at Lawton and beyond. There is no greater joy for me then to have my former students come back to see me and to remember their time spent with me in kindergarten at Lawton School.
How do you spend your summer break? Rest and relaxation which is needed to rejuvenate for the next school year!
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? I would say right now it is teaching next to my kindergarten colleague Katie Stepnitz, who is a first-year teacher here at Lawton. We have just hit it off great together being able to share our expertise with one another. I can offer the experience and knowledge of a veteran teacher while she is able to help and share with me what’s new and exciting just coming out of college and most of all helping this “old” teacher with all the technology stuff. It has been a real positive experience for both of us!!
And your personal life? Looking forward to a mother/daughter trip in June to the Dominican Republic to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from high school.
Do people usually assume kindergarten is easier—or harder—than teaching another grade? What do you think? When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I teach kindergarten I usually get two responses:
- “Wow! That must be so much fun. Kids that age are so cute. You must love what you do.”
- “Wow! It takes a special person to teach kindergarten I could never do it!!”
Then I ask, “What do you do?” My answer is usually, “I couldn’t do that job either.”
I love both those responses because I feel they are both so true. I do believe whatever grade you teach or whatever you do, it needs to be something that brings you joy each and every day and for me, that’s teaching kindergarten!
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? It is not just a nine-month job with your summers off. That is just not even close to what teachers do on a daily basis. It is a very demanding job and it doesn’t just mean going to school each day to teach and then leaving. Teachers wear many hats each and every day besides just the teacher hat. It is hard work but very rewarding.