After a mini break, I am SO excited to be back featuring another incredible educator. I've been wanting to feature more educators of colour because growing up, I rarely saw any in the classroom and even today as an educator myself, that's still the case. It is obvious that Katrina is always learning AND is having fun too, which is the sign of a true educator. Her insight was refreshing and inspiring - a perfect read to start my week
Be sure to connect and learn with Katrina after you learn more about her.
Name: Katrina Denise Kearney
Who are you? How long have you been working in the education field?
My name is Katrina Denise Kearney. This year marks my sixteenth year as an educator.
What school district are you in?
I currently work as a fifth grade teacher in the Howard County Public School System. I am also a part of a cadre of teachers who support other fifth grade teachers in the area of social studies.
What subject/ grade do you teach?
As a fifth grade teacher, I teach all core subjects which include math, language arts, science and social studies.
Who was your favourite teacher when you were a student? What made them stand out from the rest?
I love answering this question. My favorite teacher was my middle school 8th grade teacher, Ms. Nichols. As a student in an inner city public school, many of my peers had never traveled or imagined mountain climbing. We were aware of problems within our communities or those within the United States, but not around the world. Ms. Nichols often reminded us that the world was expansive and we had the ability to see and know about it al. She was an “out of the box” educator. We learned about segregation in the US and apartheid in South Africa. She helped me to think globally and analyze how I can impact the world even at a young age. I distinctly remember meeting two K2 Mountain Climbers. They visited our class and shared stories about their previous expeditions and the challenges and expected victories of their expedition to Mt Everest. I really do not remember why we met those climbers in relation to content, but they impacted me greatly because they really showed us that if we conquer fear, we could climb any mountain (metaphorically speaking). I know this was not a part of the curriculum, so it shows that she was willing to teach us no matter what it took to connect.
What was learning like growing up for you? Easy, challenging?
I was a very curious student. Reading, writing and social studies were my favorite subjects. For me these areas came with ease. Math and science were easy as well until I encountered biology, geometry and algebra 2. I will not say that they were hard as challenging seems more appropriate. Since I never feared asking questions, it really helped.
Who or what inspired you to become an educator?
I majored in communications in college, graduating from Howard University in Washington, DC. I wanted to produce children’s programming. Upon graduating, I worked in television and with an advertising agency, in addition to working with children through my church and sorority affiliations. Despite making a relatively good income, I felt unfulfilled. I then took the job as a director of Score Learning Center in MD. As I interviewed parents of potential clients, and listened to their concerns about school, I pondered whether I could better serve children in the classroom. I genuinely loved working with children, thus teaching became a natural and purpose driven career.
Describe what your dream classroom would look like.
Long are the days of overheads and teacher led discussions. We now live in an age of technology where information is accessible immediately. Students are creative and need to be motivated and engaged as a result of being accustomed to graphics and excitement via video games and apps on their phones. Therefore, my ideal classroom would be filled with Ipads, computers and interactive software. Students would have multiple forms to access learning as well as to show their learning. Texts presented would cover a range of topics and expose students to cultural, social and personal topics. Standards would be taught in an engaging way that incorporates art, music, technology and reading. To enhance student knowledge and interests, community partners and speakers would be invited, so that students understand that their learning is useful. Discovery learning would be essential along with teacher guidance and instruction. Student seating would be non-traditional; no neat rows and columns. My class would provide standard seats along with medicine ball style seating and a lounge/reading area. A visitor to my class would see students highly engaged, working both independently and collaboratively. Finally, students would engage in real world activities that provide opportunities to show their understanding by solving problems. In an essence, I see a true 21st century classroom.
Tell us about a challenging moment you’ve faced in the classroom. How did you deal with it?
The most challenging moment for me was in teaching a class of 30 students all on different levels; alone. It was a lot to manage. I survived by creating a strong class culture in which students respected each other and their differences. I made students active partners in learning by letting them suggest books, research tasks etc that pulled on their interests. Since the class was academically diverse, I had to differentiate a lot, but again some of this was student driven. Many lessons taught presented multiple “choose your adventure” style options for learning and assessment which allowed me to meet students at their need while keeping them engaged.
What gets you pumped up before entering the classroom? (ex. music, car dance party, coffee?)
My commute to work is roughly 45 minutes long. In the mornings I generally listen to music in my car. Sometimes the music comes from a morning radio show accompanied by jokes and laughs. Other times, I listen to my Spotify station where I have a collection of inspirational songs from artist like India Arie or gospel songs from artist like Jonathan Nelson. This generally excites me or motivates me to reflect on my why in life and in teaching. If I am not listening to music, I am listening to a book on cd. I am an avid reader and author. I just published my first children’s book entitled, The Message in The Mirror.
What makes you a great educator? (Come on, toot your horn!)
I am a great educator because I live by the phrase, “carpe diem, seize the day.” With this mindset I seek to make everyday matter and count for both myself and students. I look for the best mode to instruct students that takes into account their learning style and interests. I sing in class, use a variety of dialects, incorporate the arts and constantly involve my students in their own learning. I would say that I am an “out of the box” teacher who feels that learning can come from anywhere, thus I use every method to teach.
If your students could describe you, what would they say?
Like many other educators featured, I simply asked my students to describe me in an activity. Many stated that I was super funny, but serious. One student said, “Momma Hill is very helpful and explains things in a way that helps me learn. She is really cool and can laugh with us, but when she wants work completed she is very stern.” Others described me as musical, a human library (I have read a lot of books) and as one who teachers in a creative way that makes them want to learn.
What was your best teaching moment?
One of my best teaching moments was as an educator in Baltimore City Public Schools. The students were writing persuasive essays. It also happened to be Black History Month and I taught the students about the Negro Baseball Leagues; something none of them had ever heard about. What made this the best moment was the fact that we combined the two topics by writing persuasive letters to the Baltimore Orioles requesting that they allow a former Negro Player living in Baltimore the opportunity to throw out the first pitch as part of a major league team. The students were excited and felt passionate about making history or in their eyes changing history for someone. They beamed with pride when their letters were mailed and the manager responded to them and granted their request. This was an amazing teaching moment because both my strong and weak writers felt a sense of pride in their work, and accomplishment in knowing that even kids can make a difference. This is what teaching is about; seeing students learn and apply their knowledge.
What do you do to enhance your personal learning?
I am currently finishing my masters in Curriculum and Instruction with Admin Certification. In addition to that, I am a member of several teaching groups where I collaborate with other educators and share ideas. I also love TEDTalks and find that I gain a wealth of knowledge as it relates to global perspectives, and how education can be more transformative.
How do you balance your personal life from your teaching life?
It has taken some time to strike a balance, but I have finally discovered that it is essential to alleviating burn out. I participate in a weekly Zumba/Dance class called AsaFitness. This occurs on Monday nights which allows me to start my week with renewed energy. I try my best to complete any school related tasks later in the evening when my kids are asleep, so that I can enjoy family time. I maximize my time in school by often enjoying a working lunch, which leaves less to focus on later. My weekends are strictly for my family, except Sunday’s 7-8, which are for school preparations.
Do you do enough to maintain your personal wellbeing?
I would have to say yes. I have adopted the mindset that I am of no good use to anyone or anything if I am not whole. As a result, I take time to workout, eat right and enjoy life with friends and family. I have also decided to follow my own dreams by becoming an author.
Have you ever experienced burn out? What/who helped you cope?
I have never experienced a burn out in the sense that I wanted to give up being a teacher. I have however felt overwhelmed with report cards, data and meetings. What has helped is being more strategic. I start comments as I see concerns or strengths and adjust later. This helps me to keep track of student glows and grows. I have involved students in the data process which helps them to take more ownership of their grades, and helps me with some data keeping as well. In times where I have really needed a pick me up, I watch a video or Tedtalk and think about my “why.” Talking with a fellow teacher is also a constant source of encouragement. I have found that someone can always relate to any situation I face, or can offer advice.
What do you love most about teaching?
I love teaching because while many standards remain the same from year to year, I have the autonomy to teach as I see fit. Subsequently, every day is a new experience. The most rewarding part of teaching is seeing students grow and begin to value their learning. Some of my happiest moments have come from watching a student go from trying to please the teacher and beginning to persevere, to setting their own goals because they are intrinsically motivated.
If you could talk to your younger self (ex. elementary student, high school student, post-secondary) what would you say?
If I could talk to my younger elementary self, I would say learn the basics of reading, writing and math because they will take you far. I would also say that asking questions is what makes you smarter; never be afraid to ask for help. The phrase, you have not because you ask not bears truth. I would also say that things that are challenging or hard are not the times you should quit, but rather when you should say to yourself, I just don’t get it YET. I think if some of these things are learned in elementary they would help in middle and high. I would encourage my younger self at all levels to be a risk taker and be courageous enough to make mistakes. I would say that being involved in extra-curricular activities builds relationships and character, so try new things. Finally, I would say to be yourself, and always believe in the power of you despite what others may say.
There may be teachers reading this who are in need of a reminder why they’re great educators? What would you say to help lift their spirits?
Our world is full of adults who never learned to believe in their own strength. Therefore, they have wasted opportunities and sat on their dreams. As an educator, you have the ability daily to impact a child in a way that could make them a life-changer and not another adult who has a dream deferred. As a teacher you help mold the future; literally. That spark of hope, gentle reminder that each child is capable, hug at the end of the day, positive note, push to work harder, stern voice that promotes responsible behavior, modeling and coaching is what leads to the doctor, lawyer, author, scientists, educator or innovator. You, yes you, can teach one child today and change the world tomorrow. At the end of the day, you matter most because you help young minds understand that they matter even more.
Jam Gamble - Connector of People, Ideas and Energy