By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Kris Hepner grew up in Ann Arbor less than a mile from The Big House. She attended Dicken, Slauson, and Pioneer. At Dicken, she had the unique opportunities of being part of the Dicken/Lawton combo under the direction of Chuck Meyers and the Dicken Choir under the direction of Cherry Westerman. Hepner has two older sisters, Brenda and Kathy, who also products of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Her parents were yet another generation of AAPS grads, graduating from Ann Arbor High. Her dad, Garland, was a weighmaster for the Washtenaw County Road Commission and her mom, Eiline worked for Wolverine Sports creating much of the equipment used in the Ann Arbor Schools.
Hepner did not start out wanting to be a teacher. She spent her first three years at Eastern Michigan University working toward a degree in accounting. But she had friends studying education and she just couldn’t resist the pull of teaching. She graduated with a degree in elementary education and endorsements in early childhood, science, and social studies and says she’s never regretted changing paths.
This year marks her 23rd year of teaching, with 21 of those years teaching at Angell in first, second or a first-second grade multi-age class.
Hepner continues to live in the Ann Arbor School District just outside the city limits. It is here she raised her two children: Brandon, 28, and Shelby, 24. They, too, are graduates of Ann Arbor. Hepner—a Pioneer graduate—has had to learn to root for the Huron High School River Rats because both Brandon and Shelby went to Huron. (She says anyone who has lived in Ann Arbor for a while knows how hard this can be.) Shelby, a recent EMU graduate, is now hoping to teach in Ann Arbor.
Hepner enjoys walking her five-year-old lab mix named Otis in local parks.
What was always written on your report card in grade school?
I got along well with others and my work was neat.
What were you like in high school?
I was pretty quiet in high school. I did enjoy being at Pioneer and had a lot of fun, but still got my work done!
When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?
I remember how happy kids were to come to school. They were patient with me and willing to try new things.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
Trust in yourself. If you make a mistake, that is okay. Make sure to own up to mistakes as it is good for the class to see you take risks. Make sure to ask for help when you need and remember to take a deep breath!
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I get very excited about learning. As a teacher, you are continuously learning. I wanted to share and inspire children to feel that excitement and ask questions, lots of questions!
What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
That I’m a caring person who shows compassion for others.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching?
Teaching is never the same, it is always evolving. How and what you teach can change year to year. It is important to never stop learning and to see out those opportunities to learn. Take risks and let others see you taking those risks.
Describe an average workday.
Arriving early to get the classroom set up for a day of learning. Greeting the kids in the morning and taking some time to hear about how they are, how their morning has gone, what they are looking forward to, etc. Spend the day learning together and building a community. We end the day with lots of smiles and looking forward to the next day.
What’s the happiest part of your day?
First thing in the morning. I set some time aside every morning so we can chat with each other. This where I really get to know the kids and am able to gauge where they are emotionally which helps in how I will best reach them throughout the academic day.
Amazon, of course.
Apps you can’t live without:
I think I could probably live without any of them. I use them and know they can be valuable tools but I think technology sometimes gets in the way.
If you could know the definitive answer to any one question, what would that question be?
Where would be the fun in that?
What makes teaching at Angell unique? Being able to meet and teach people from all over the world. I have learned so much about so many places just from having the privilege of teaching here.
If you could talk to your teenage self, what would you say?
Enjoy being young. Things aren’t as bad as you think they are.
What do you know about teaching now that you wish you’d known that first year?
Make time for yourself. You need to keep yourself well so you can be the best you can for your students.
How do you keep students engaged?
I make them part of the process. What do they want to know, have them help teach, make sure to really listen to them and help them to follow their passions.
How do you show school spirit?
Being part of the school community. Participate in events, have fun with the Spirit Days.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
By far the kids. They can always make me smile and what a joy when that lightbulb finally pops on. When you create a bond with the children and watch how much they grow, nothing could be more rewarding
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
It is a 24/7 job. You are constantly thinking about your kids and yes, we call them our kids. You want to make sure they get the best educational experience they can have and protect them for the harsh realities of the world.
How do you recharge?
I do the things that make me happy which can be hanging out with friends, cuddling with my adorable dog Otis to binge-watching a good Netflix show. Being out in nature is always a good way to recharge.