Many administrators and teachers do not take a three-month break during the summer as is often assumed. Instead, they spend a great deal of their summer “vacation” finding ways to motivate and inspire students.
Kimberly Welch, of the Pettis County R-XII (Dresden) School District, is one such teacher who has devoted herself to not only teaching her second grade students but also to helping to develop the next generation of teachers through her work as an adjunct professor at Central Methodist University.
For her dedication and efforts, Welch was recently named one of two Central Missouri Regional Teachers of the Year for 2016-17.
“I have to say it was a little surreal when Julie (Blaine) from the RPDC (Central Regional Professional Development Center at UCM) called and told me I was one of the winners,” Welch said. “It’s very nice to be recognized for my efforts, but I’m certainly not the only teacher who does what I do or deserves to win.
“It may sound cliché but it’s true, I didn’t go into teaching for the paycheck or the fun hours and summers off — I went into teaching because I wanted to have the opportunity to help my students become lifelong learners.” she added.
Welch did not always want to be a teacher. She wrote in her professional biography that early in life she wanted to be like her parents.
“As a child I wanted to be a mother and raise a family,” she wrote. “As a young woman, I expected to become a carpenter like my father.”
After raising two sons and two stepdaughters, Welch said she considered writing children’s books as she helped to raise her family, volunteered at their school and served as a youth pastor in her church, on several occasions traveling to Haiti to work with children and families there.
It was her husband who was the driving force in encouraging Welch to return to school to become a teacher.
“I spent my first six years in teaching at Holden as an elementary art teacher,” Welch said. “I loved my time in the classroom but I wanted to help and support teachers, especially new teachers, so I went into administration.
“Traditionally, new teachers aren’t given the support needed to advance their skills, and many of them left teaching early — at one time as many as 40 to 50 percent because they did not have those support systems in place,” she added. “Today the number has dropped to 17 percent in part because of the work that is being done to help young teachers.”
Welch spent a year as a principal in Dresden before realizing how much she missed her kids and wanted to be back in the classroom.
“I had numerous responsibilities as an administrator that have helped me in my work mentoring and teaching young teachers that have also benefited me in my classroom,” Welch said. “I enjoy leadership but at the end of my first year as a principal I was reminded that my heart truly belonged in the classroom.
“My students know that I expect a lot from them, but I also expect a lot from myself as well,” she added. “I love being in a small school district because I can really get to know my students and connect with them.”
Welch is the second grade teacher at Dresden, which has an average yearly enrollment of 145 students.
In addition to being a teacher in the district, she also mentors young teachers and serves as the District’s curriculum coordinator and professional development coordinator, as well as her adjunct teaching position for CMU at State Fair Community College in Sedalia.
“I’m passionate about my students and I’m not afraid to show them that I care for them and I worry about them,” Welch said. “My students struggle and worry about so many different social and academic challenges and so I know that my job is to provide them with the guidance and tools to develop and practice their skills and to make their own choices.
“I think as educators we focus more on data and assessments than we used to,” Welch added. “We shouldn’t use that to define who a student is. They worry about and deal with things on a daily basis that data can’t show and in so many situations they are fighting for what they have each day.”
As an example, Welch said data does not show or care that a student’s baby brother may have kept him awake all night crying, resulting in him not studying for his spelling test or that another student is too worried about the fact her father was recently laid off and has not be able to find work so she can’t focus on her studies.
Welch commented that for a student to find success both in and out of the classroom they must take ownership in their work.
“I don’t have any sacred cows in my classroom and I let the students guide and direct their learning,” Welch said. “Giving them a choice and ownership is important. Their learning has to be engaging and something that they will remember and apply. It has to be useful and relevant information and something that they need to know in order to be successful in life.
“My students write the rules for the classroom and we treat each other with respect and learn to love the difference in each of us,” she added. My students know that fairness is not necessarily everyone getting the same thing, but each of us getting what they need.”
Pettis County R-XII Superintendent Amy Fagg said meeting the needs of each of Welch’s students is one of her many assets.
“Mrs. Welch works tirelessly to discover new and innovative ways to engage her students in the curriculum,” Fagg said. “She sees each student as an individual and tries to meet their needs individually.”
Welch, along with Patrick Hemmingsen, was selected as the co-recipient for the Central District award from teachers in 14 counties from 71 districts.
“I have come to realize that learning is not about inculcating knowledge, it is about engaging students in concepts, ideas, and possibilities and watching them come to life, “ Welch wrote. “Teaching then is a matter of facilitating that process.
“Today’s students are the future leaders, social workers, parents, first responders, doctors, teachers and technicians that will further our society, and I have the privilege of being their teacher,” she added. “Teaching is not a task for the timid; it is hard work but worth the effort and I believe that when we raise the bar and set challenging expectations for ourselves and our students, we will not simply meet them, we will soar above them.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.