Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature KPS teacher Heather Gatton. In her sixth year of teaching at Woodward School for Science and Technology, she is working with third graders this year.
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, for the past two years this dedicated and creative teacher has been supporting the CIS annual event, Walking With Purpose, by serving as captain for her school’s team, the Woodward Wolves. [Walking With Purpose is a month-long challenge to walk, as a community, a total of 12,000 miles during October to raise awareness and funds for the mission of CIS: to empower students to success.]
She recently let us zoom in on her lunchtime to pop this quiz on her.
Alright, Ms. Gatton: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
Are you from Kalamazoo?
No. Because of my dad’s job, I moved a lot as a child and when I was in high school. I was born in Minnesota, lived in Ohio, a few places in Michigan, and in Canada. I graduated from high school in Arkansas and then, because my parents moved to Kalamazoo, I ended up coming here and going to Western. That all has helped me, I think, with connecting with my students who have moved around, because I was often that ‘new kid.’
What do you love most about teaching?
What I love most about teaching is seeing a kid finally understand something. Something finally clicks for them, and they have this moment when their face lights up like, I get it! I love seeing that moment!
And I also love the relationships we build here at Woodward. Relationships are so important! Especially developing those relationships with kids who may be struggling a little more behaviorally, and you finally reach this moment of trust, where the student trusts you. And you have this moment where you are working together as a team instead of you-working-against-me mindset. I love being able to get to that point with kids because that’s when the real academics and learning can start.
What is one of the hardest thing about teaching?
The hard thing about teaching, especially when it comes to the elementary level, is having to be on all day. The little ones do so much better when there are activities to do, but it’s also exhausting as a teacher. To always be on, to always be on top of things, managing 5, 000 different things, and every kid wants your attention or need your help. Well, it’s just a lot. And even when you have that little break, you are busy during that time, doing lesson plans or shoveling your lunch down. It’s always a busy, busy day. So when I get home at the end of the day, I’ll just sit in silence for a while.
Does having CIS in your school help you as a teacher?
Yes. Having CIS at our school is amazing. We have a food pantry here at Woodward that supplies a lot of our families with food. [To learn more about this CIS partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, see this sweet post, Giving up Recess to Give Back.] We also do Friday Food Packs for kids to take home snacks for the weekend. [Since 2005, these Friday Food Packs have been one of the critical “tools” CIS site coordinators pull out of their tool box of resources to help students. Executive Director of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes Jennifer Johnson talks more about the history of the food packs and this partnership here.]
CIS and Woodward also partner with Kalamazoo College which is also very close to us in proximity. So we have a ton of K College volunteers and tutors. Right now, I’m working with five different K College tutors. [CIS Site Coordinator] Jen DeWaele manages and schedules them for us. In addition to that, we have the CIS interns. We have so much support that we receive through CIS and it is very, very helpful.
And also, if we ever need anything for our students, I’ll just email Jen: Do we still have some snow boots? Can we get this kid a coat? This kid needs something. Can you help? And Jen always finds a way.
For the second year in a row, you are serving as the Woodward Wolves captain for the CIS event, Walking with Purpose. How did you become involved with this annual event?
Last year, [Associate Director of Site Services] Jenna Cooperrider, who works at CIS and is also a friend, asked if I wanted to pull together a Woodward team for Walking with Purpose. Since CIS is a huge support at our school, I’m like, Yes, of course I’ll try and do this. I know not all of the money our team raises will go directly to our school, but just knowing it goes to CIS and how much support they give our community and district as a whole, I really wanted to be a part of it. Plus, I’m also a big fitness fanatic and I’m very competitive. So, I’m like, Yes, we will sign up and we will win! Last year, we had just ten people sign up and now we have 20 staff members signed up this year.
That is fantastic that you doubled your team in just one year!
And we have raised over 3,000 from our team!
Wow! Thank you and all the Woodward Wolves for this commitment!
A big part of the reason we are doing this is that our school really loves CIS. We couldn’t function as well without Jen DeWaele and all of the support we receive from CIS. So everybody has been on board to do Walking with Purpose.
What is one book that has helped shaped who you are?
I’m a big Brené Brown fan. The Gifts of Imperfection is one book … as well as her other books! I do love myself a good self-help book! While a lot of them seem to be a bit repetitive, every author words it a little differently. I’m a deep reader. I read a book and then I’m like, Wow!
What are you currently reading?
101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think by Brianna Wiest.
And are those essays changing the way you think?
[She laughs.] I’ve read about half of them. I try and just read one a night because they are really interesting. While you could fly through it, it’s good to sit with one and think, Huh! I didn’t think of it that way.
It’s not necessarily changing the way I think so much as either changing my mind about some things or at least opening my mind up to other points of view. There are all different kinds of topics ranging from Why are you holding yourself back from being more successful? to Why kids have more anxiety than they used to.
What is your favorite word right now?
It’s a phrase, actually. I say, You can, a lot to the kids. I say this to my kids all the time because I hear a lot of negative self-talk during the day: I can’t read. I can’t draw. I can’t write. I can’t do this. I can’t do that. So I say, You can! You can, I tell them. You may not want to put in the effort. But if you put in the effort, you can!
Do you have a favorite thing to do or place to go in Kalamazoo area?
I just love to be outside. I’ll go on the Kal-Haven Trail or the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail. Spring Valley Park is my favorite park. I do a lot of walking and some running at parks at various parks and trails throughout the area.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
In that book by Brianna Wiest that I just told you about, there is one essay that talks about why children today have a lot more anxiety than ever before. While social media plays a role in this, the essay also emphasizes that children are inherently people pleasers. They want to please their mom or their dad or their teacher. So when they are told they shouldn’t be crying, or shouldn’t be feeling the feelings that they have, they start to have some anxiety around this. They start thinking they are being bad for crying or feeling these feelings. And they don’t want to disappoint the grownups. Of course, the adults aren’t doing this on purpose, but the take-away for the child can end up being anxiety around this and feeling like, They are mad at me.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My parents for sure. They’ve always pushed and supported me. For instance, when I graduated high school, I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I told my parents I was going to take a year off. While they didn’t put too much pressure on me, they pushed me to be successful and allowed me to take some risks.
That’s an important part of parenting, to let your kids take risks. We don’t want our kids to fail so the temptation is to jump in and solve their problems for them. But your parents didn’t do that.
Yeah. They had the attitude: We don’t care where you go to college or if you take just one class or two. What we don’t want you doing is taking a year off and doing nothing. Do something!
So I actually started at the University of Arkansas. But that wasn’t really working, so I moved to Kalamazoo and went to KVCC because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I really liked KVCC and Kalamazoo. I took some career placement tests at KVCC. And they were all coming back with social work/teacher kind of stuff. So I was like, I’ll try teaching.
Growing up, I always loved my teachers but it was never that glaring light of I want to be a teacher when I grow up. But I tried it out and here I am, six years later, still teaching!
Thank you, Ms. Gatton, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
Tags: CIS, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, community partners in schools, Heather Gatton, Jen DeWaele, Jenna Cooperrider, Jennifer Johnson, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Kalamazoo Public Schools, teachers making a difference, Walking With Purpose