Auburn native stoked about first teaching assignment — all-day kindergarten

Kelsie Anderson returns to familiar surroundings, this time as a first-year teacher at Lea Hill Elementary.  - Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter
Kelsie Anderson returns to familiar surroundings, this time as a first-year teacher at Lea Hill Elementary.
— image credit: Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

All of the settings are familial to Kelsie Anderson — and almost eerily familiar.

Almost 20 years after a bright, wide-eyed, curious kindergartner named Kelsie Criddle first entered a classroom at Hazelwood Elementary School, Anderson, all grown up, was back in that same room for her student teaching.

On Wednesday the Auburn native welcomed her first class of kindergartners to the same classroom at nearby Lea Hill Elementary where her brother and sister had once been kindergartners. Next door to the room where their mother had once taught. In the school where Anderson was once a paraeducator.

"It's pretty cool," said Anderson.

Anderson teaches one of the new, state-funded full-day kindergartens, and the idea of having the 22-plus young fresh faces who'll be in her charge from morning to afternoon thrills her from crown to toes.

"Not nervous at all," Anderson said with a laugh. "I feel pretty well prepared to teach kindergarten."

For some of the kids, Anderson explained, it'll be their first ever experience away from home in a school setting, so there will be some kids who'll come in and won't know criss-cross applesauce, some who have never touched scissors before, some who have never been told no before, even some who have never been away from a television screen for more than an hour.

"My game plan for day one is routine and structure. And taking into consideration where our students are coming from, the family life some of them are coming from, they'll need that routine and that structure. For some of them, school is going to be the most comfortable and welcoming place for them. I really believe kindergarten sets them up for the rest of their education," Anderson said.

For someone who loves to teach, as Anderson clearly does, it may come as a surprise that medical school, not teaching, was her first ambition.

But a few things happened along the way to redirect her focus.

First and foremost was the example set by her mother, Jayne Criddle, today a special education teacher at Auburn High School.

"My mother is a very patient and kind person, and she's always had a soft spot in her heart for people with disabilities or special needs, people who might not be able to function like you and I might be able to function. People who might need that extra support to be successful. She's always been an example of love and patience and kindness," Anderson said.

Then, in her senior year at Auburn High School, one of her math teachers, Mike Clancy, let her teach a class, twice.

"I could see that I was even helping my peers to learn, and it felt good. So, combined with my mother's example and a good support structure, I decided I wanted to be a high school math teacher, because that's all I had ever taught," Anderson said.

Set on becoming a high school math teacher, Anderson attended Brigham Young University in Utah after graduating from AHS. But for various reasons, she and BYU weren't a good fit.

Back home again, Anderson followed her mother's advice and attended Green River Community College. There she decided that teaching middle school science would be the thing for her. She got into Central Washington University's teaching program at GRCC's Kent campus, from which she graduated with a minor in science and a major in education. While Anderson was studying there, her mother suggested she apply for a job as a paraeducator. When her contract with the Kent School District ended, the Auburn School District hired her to work a half day in adaptive behavior at Mountain View High School.

And, crucially, she got to work with kindergartners at Dick Scobee Elementary.

"They asked if I was willing to do kindergarten PE for 30 minutes a day in the gym for recess time. That did it. I fell head over heels in love with kindergarten and am still head over heels in love with it," Anderson said.

She explained what it is about teaching that moves her every day.

"There's this moment when you are explaining a new concept to somebody else — and it doesn't matter if they are three or 100 years old — when you can see in their eyes, it connects. It's the ah-ha moment. It's the learning, and you can see it," Anderson said.

"In the educational world there's what we call schema. And your schema is what you perceive as reality; what you know to be true. And when you are learning, your schema gets rearranged. The goal is to create life-long learners. People who just love that rearrangement. I love having my schema rearranged and learning something new. Just kind of having that 'whoa, I get it' moment. And you can see that in whomever you are working with or teaching with. And that is what draws me to teaching," Anderson said.

She explained what kids can expect from her.

"They are also going to feel wanted, welcomed and safe. And they better expect to learn. And we're gonna have fun. Kindergarten is going to be a blast."

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