Nominated by parent, Jennifer Yager:
Though I knew it was probably inevitable, I was still disappointed last summer when my son, Peyton, complained for the first time about starting a new school year. Lucky for him, and us, he was assigned to Kari Hall’s third grade class at Union Ridge Elementary! We knew his teacher was someone very special when he received a wallet of fake money that first week, was assigned a classroom job that earned a salary based on the position, had bills to pay each week, and had the opportunity to buy fun experiences such as trips to special reading areas like, Australia or The Meadow, at a bi-weekly auction. Ms. Hall had the entire class hooked on learning from day one. Over the past year she has continually used unique and interesting methods to keep her students excited about learning. From holiday floats from around the world to study cultural diversity, dance moves to learn geometry, family totem poles to study Native Americans, classical background music, table team academic competitions, and even exercise balls in place of chairs. These are just a few ways that Ms. Hall teaches outside the box to assure her students enjoy learning.
Congratulations Kari, from all of us at K103!
What inspired you to become an educator?
Mrs. Mack, my second grade teacher, was so fun and I remember even as a 7 year old wanting to be just like her. As the years progressed, I changed my mind about what kind of career I wanted to have but came full circle when I was reminded through internships and working with kids how much I enjoyed engaging, creating, guiding and teaching.
What do you like most about teaching?
My favorite part of teaching is the teacher/student relationship. Everything rides on this. Once a teacher can create a comfortable anxiety-free environment, then anything can happen. Along with that are many other loves..... I love transforming an unexcited reader into a kid that is passionate about books. I love watching the looks on students faces as "their wheels are turning" trying to come up with an answer, or an opinion or a question. I love the trust the students had in me during my middle school teaching years and the devotion I receive from my students as a third grade teacher. I love that teaching is always changing. There is never an excuse to become bored, as the job lends itself to constant creation, modification and learning.
What has changed the most since you began your career in education?
There is an intense focus on standardized testing that didn't exist when I first started teaching. My first job was at a middle school in the Bay Area and we were lucky if there was a class set of books. This deficiancy, however, did not deter my favorite teaching team of all time. We created our own curriculum based on the grade level standards and the level of creativity that surfaced was phenomenal. These kids, a very diverse low-socioeconomic group, were engaged and learning. They experienced many "being there" experiences that opened their eyes to their world. Today, the focus on standardized testing is so heavy that many amazing lessons, units and experiences are stripped away and I believe both teacher and students lose because of this.
What would you like parents to know about your job?
I am your kid's teacher and parent when they are with me. I guide my students the same way I guided my own children. I tell my students every year that we will see each other more than we see our own families and so we need to be nice to each other. We need to make each other feel safe or they will never learn. We are a school family. My job is not a 9 to 5 job. When the day is done, the week is done, the year is done, I am thinking about your kids and pondering how I will meet the needs of everyone in my class and the class after that..... I spend hours analyzing lessons and units wanting to make them educational but also fun. Learning needs to be fun.
Share a favorite story about your years in education.
There are many favorite stories during my middle school years and my elementary years. A favorite from the middle school years was when my team took our inner city kids on a camping trip/rope course. Many had never been out of the city before. The kids got to engage in activities that developed a level of trust with each other that they would never have experienced in a school setting. It was magical and happy.
Every year my third graders create a float that reflects their diversity and culture. On the day before Thanksgiving we have a "parade" and tell about our floats. Then we sit down at one long table and have our "Thankful for Friends" lunch. It warms my heart every single year to look down the table at my third graders faces as they each share what they are grateful for and then we raise our glasses and make a toast to our class.