Archive for Thursday, January 10, 2008

Love of learning contributes to love of teaching

January 10, 2008

Eudora High School English teacher Heather Lawrence loves to learn. She reads as much as possible and is in the midst of pursuing a Master's degree in liberal arts from Baker University.

But learning is not what she loves the most. What she loves the most is teaching, though Rod Stewart might be a close second.

"I know I'm too young to love him, but it's just a guilty pleasure," said Lawrence, the Eudora Chamber of Commerce's Teacher of the Month for December.

While Eudora High School Principal Dale Sample might not be aware of Lawrence's affection for Mr. Stewart, he does know how much she loves teaching.

"She is one of those people who goes the extra mile to do things," Sample said. "There are teachers that get by, and there are teachers that excel at their profession, and there is no question that Heather is in the latter category."

Lawrence said that one of the best things about receiving the award was that her fellow teachers voted for her.

"It meant quite a lot to me because I knew that my co-workers were the ones who made the decision, and that was the ultimate form of flattery because I work a lot of really talented people who all deserve the award and some gratitude," she said. "This is a thankless job and that recognition meant a lot, and it also meant a lot that the community contributed to it."

Lawrence, who grew up in Stillwell and graduated from Kansas State University in 2001, credits her 12th-grade English teacher for getting her interested in teaching.

"She was just amazing and really taught me about reading and writing and fostered a love for writing in me," Lawrence said. "And - it sounds really hokey - but she believed in me as a writer and made me believe that maybe I could do it a little bit and I was kind of talented at it."

The typical workload for a teacher keeps them busy in and out of the classroom. But Lawrence's studies and her two children, 18-month-old son Carter and 3-year-old daughter Maggie - who much to the chagrin Lawrence's husband Mike Kauk is named after Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" - add to that workload.

However, she still tries to fit in a little time for herself on occasion, as she did during the holidays.

"I take naps and I read books," she said. "I was so excited over winter break - I got to read three novels."

While many teachers go back to school to move up on the pay scale or become administrators, Lawrence simply wanted to continue learning. However, being a student again has not changed her view of assigning homework.

"I don't sympathize because I'm a big dork and I love to learn and I love to do the homework," she said.

Her studies have also allowed her to come up with new things to teach her students.

For instance, after taking a class titled "Women, Madness, and Creativity," she then began a writing project with her honors students to examine what being normal means and why society deems it so important to be normal.

Such lessons exemplify Lawrence's belief in making classroom activities relatable in order for the students to care more.

"You have to connect it to their lives and make it applicable to them," she said. "Pathetic it may be, but I remember what high school was like. I remember my freshmen year very clearly, and I think about those things as I'm planning. I think the best way to instill lifelong learning is to do it by example and excitement."

However, she doesn't believe that she has reached the summit of teaching yet in her 7-year career and believes that she still can and will improve.

"I have a lot to learn about teaching, and every year I learn more," Lawrence said. "I just think I'm so incredibly lucky to get up and go to work every day in a job that I love."

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