Ready for class: Jaymie Baunach, left, and Katie Burkhauser are lifelong friends who have returned to their roots to teach in the Auburn School District. ROBERT WHALE, Auburn Reporter

Back to school: Best friends come full circle to teach in their hometown

Ever since they met 18 years ago, as little girls tumbling, cartwheeling and leaping for Auburn Gymnastics, Jaymie Baunach and Katie Burkhauser have been best friends.

Crosstown besties – Baunach grew up in Lakeland Hills, Burkhauser on Lea Hill – in the years that followed, they fed their friendship on laughter, tears, birthday parties, church, shared interests, joint membership on the Auburn Youth Council, summer camp, musicianship – Burkhauser played cello, Baunach was in jazz choir – bad reality TV, knitting and volunteering.

From kindergarten on, however, at different schools.

Baunach graduated from Auburn Riverside High School, Burkhauser from Auburn Mountainview, both in 2012.

But as each pursued her college degree – Baunach at Western Washington University and Burkhauser at the University of Washington – they never let their friendship grow faint in the rear view mirror, and were never more than a week or three from a chat, and a “how’s it going?”

Today, the 2017 college graduates are roommates in Puyallup.

And when the opening bell blares, or buzzes, or clangs, or whatever it does on Wednesday, Sept. 6, first day of the 2017-18 school year, they’ll be among the Auburn School District’s crop of brand new teachers.

Back in the town in which they were raised.

Just one regret.

“We’re still not at the same school, that’s our goal” said Burkhauser, who’ll be teaching freshmen and sophomore algebra and geometry at Auburn High, while Baunach will be a special education teacher Rainier Middle School for kids with behavioral challenges.

A little nervous?

Of course, but who better to wade the hardships of that first year of teaching than with your lifelong friend and now roomie, who busts you up with laughter, who digs where you’re coming from better than probably anyone else on the planet?

Excited? Definitely.

For both of them, the jazz of teaching is not so much about the material, it’s about building relationships with the kids, which is, after all, the most important thing. Both define their teaching style in light of these relationships.

“I’m more excited than anything because I am really excited about building relationships with my students. I get to work with a lot of freshmen and sophomores, so I get to see them go through high school, and if they like me, hopefully they’ll come back and see me,” Burkhauser said. “If you don’t build relationships with those kids, they’re not going to listen to you.”

“I’m feeling mixed emotions right now,” Baunach said. “Working with the behavioral program is what I wanted to do, it’s what I student taught, it’s what I love. I got good placement, I’ve got a really good teacher I’m working with, and it could be a really good match between the two of us. I also have some nerves because I’ve never worked in middle school before, I did mainly high school or elementary, and middle school is its own challenge, ‘cause there’s a lot going on in that time in kids’ lives. I think it will be a learning curve for sure. I’ll try to lead by action, and not with my voice.”


Different paths led these best friends to the same destination.

From first light, Val and Valerie Burkhauser’s daughter knew two things almost – she loved math, and she was going to be a teacher. For heaven’s sake, she daydreamed in grade school about having her own classroom, about working with kids, grading papers.

Math she still adores, for its versatility and applicability, she says, to seemingly every part of life.

Baunach, daughter of Jay Baunach and Auburn School Board member Anne Baunach – had to find her way onto the path, guided by the helpful hands of teachers and mentors who saw what was in her and told her she’d be a great teacher, even before she was ready to accept that truth.

Baunach’s interest in special education took root in the sixth grade, when a friend of her mother adopted a girl with a traumatic injury, and Jaymie became a helper for the mother. She went on to work with special need kids at camp and got high on the bond she formed with them, the light bulb, aha moments that propel nearly every teacher into teaching.

Best friends Burkhauser and Baunach are, but there are important differences.

Burkhauser describes herself as at once laid back and very excitable, prone to fixating on things, so she runs to keep the stress at bay. Another descriptor – neat and tidy.

Is Baunach neat and tidy, too? Umm, not so much – she’s more of the rumpled type.

“I love you dearly, but you are one of the clumsiest people I have ever met,” Burkhauser said.

Yes, Baunach conceded, with one of her frequent laughs, it’s true.

Often spilling drinks and dropping food, falling, walking into signs – she says she has concussed herself on several occasions – she also collects beer pint glasses and enjoys fantasy football league.

When the women walk together, Baunach can’t keep a straight line, is ever meandering into Burkhauser’s path.

Baunach calls herself, “very opinionated.”

Burkhauser, she said, prefers to listen, is a lifelong learner, keen to find out where the other person is coming from.

And where Burkhauser is a dog person, Baunach is a cat person. She has two tuxedo kitties, Frankie and Simone, named after jazz greats Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone, and a dog Colt, named after legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane.

Do they still make each other laugh?

“Only a little bit,” Burkhauser said.

“All the time,” corrected Baunach, with a fresh burst of laughter.

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