Kristin Berger, King Elementary music teacher

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News

Kristin Berger grew up moving every three or four years—which she attributes to her parents having “itchy feet” when she was younger. “But actuality, there have just been lots of awesome opportunities in my life,” she recalls. “I’ve lived in different parts of Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky, as well as in France, Japan, and Mexico.”

Berger graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio with bachelor’s degrees in music education and vocal performance, and a master’s degree in secondary education. She taught general music and choir in a K-8 school in Ohio and K-12 in Chelsea before coming to AAPS.

“I joined AAPS in the fall of 2020, just in time to learn Zoom with everyone else,” she recalls. “I had actually done a bit of substitute teaching at King in the years prior and knew this was the school where I wanted to teach for the rest of my career. When the opportunity came up, my answer was, `Absolutely, yes,’ and I am thrilled to be here today.”

Principal Koren Clinkscale says Berger has created a sense of community and belonging within her music classroom. 

“When you enter her classroom, you can see children who are enthusiastic about learning and excited to be in the presence of Mrs. Berger,” says Clinkscale. “Oftentimes, you can observe students not only singing but using various instruments to create beautiful music.  Kristin’s enthusiastic personality has spilled over into the entire school community and we are honored to have her as a part of our King family.”

When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?
It can be an enormous challenge to be a specials teacher since there’s typically only one music teacher at a school. My first school was no exception, and I remember feeling the challenge of not having colleagues to collaborate with about lessons or students. Thankfully, there are amazing music teachers across the AAPS district and we are able to collaborate.

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Drink a lot of water!

What inspired you to become a teacher? Why music?
When I was in seventh grade, the counselor put me in Choir because I was new to the district and she thought I’d make friends there. The first song we learned was “Fly Me to the Moon” (styled like Frank Sinatra) and I was hooked from the first measure. I was just amazed that someone could play piano and sing all day, and be paid for it! It’s been my dream ever since seventh grade to be a music teacher, and I am so lucky to be able to experience that dream every day.

What do you miss about living in France, Japan, and Mexico?
Living internationally has given me such a unique perspective as a teacher. I was lucky to live around the world starting at a young age, and I think it has really improved my teaching. I know what it feels like to be the student who doesn’t speak the language or have any friends on that first day, and while I know it gets better, I also know that a kind smile can help tremendously.

Most recently, I lived in Mexico before coming to Michigan. It was a challenge because I do not speak Spanish, although I certainly tried to learn enough to be conversational. My oldest child was four months old when we moved to Mexico and I was thankful to be able to spend that time with him. Also, the tacos. Oh, I miss the tacos! And I was blessed with a few friends who spoke English and were willing to share the local culture with me. I even got to tour a music conservatory in the heart of our city—Queretaro—and learn about their luthier (violin-making) program. 

What’s the best thing about living in Michigan?
The snow! I absolutely love spring and fall here in Michigan but my favorite season by far is winter.

What are your thoughts on AAPS’ emphasis on dignity and belonging this year? 
I find the emphasis on dignity and belonging to be energizing and incredibly important. Our young learners need to know that they are respected and valued in every corner of our building. I have Maya Angelou’s words in my mind every time students leave my classroom: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” My goal is that they feel loved and hopefully enjoyed something musical, too! AAPS’ focus on dignity and belonging is another great step toward bringing a very large, diverse, and worthy group of students, parents, and teachers together.

Who are your favorite singers?

  • Adele. I have a very soft spot in my heart for Adele—her voice is associated with many wonderful things that have happened in my life.
  • Walk Off the Earth. They’re a band from Canada that is constantly doing innovative and exciting things with approachable instruments that we have in our classroom.
  • Sting [from The Police]. His voice is so unique and has lasted his entire career—not all vocalists can say the same.
  • Michael Buble.´ His origin story is amazing, and he’s overcome some overwhelming obstacles in his life. I find him inspirational and his voice is so easy to listen to.

If you could sing like anyone in history, it would be …
Karen Carpenter, hands down.

Is every student musical? 
Yes, absolutely! In my classroom, it is up to the student how much they want to challenge themselves. Some choose the option with very little challenge, and some students want to do it all. It is my job to ensure students are able to take risks at their own comfort level and have fun while making music.

What do you love about working at King?
We are incredibly lucky to have such a diverse student population! There is also a great collaborative spirit among the staff here at King. One person does not do everything, and everyone steps in for each other when needed. It’s a huge morale boost to know that the people you work with have your back. 

Describe an average workday.
On an average day, I teach between nine or ten 30-minute classes. This might be two kindergarten classes back-to-back, then two third grade classes back-to-back, then lunch. After a quick planning period I might teach another kindergarten class, two fourth grade classes, and then two first grade classes. Then another quick planning period before dismissal duties. We keep things moving pretty quickly around here and it makes the day a lot of fun.

What’s the happiest part of your day?
Arrival, by far. I love seeing the students enter the building. We can tell how their day has been and often we will hear about awesome things they saw on the way to school or things that have happened in their life. On the fourth day of school, we even found a giant stick bug on the school wall.

Favorite website: 
Chrome Music Lab

Apps you can’t live without:
Calendar, WhatsApp, Spotify.

If you could know the definitive answer to any one question, what would that question be?
“Why?” (Because I have a three-year-old and a five-year-old!) 

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
Seeing the lightbulb moments when something clicks for the students. Or knowing that I am doing my part to create thoughtful consumers of music during their lifetimes.

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