Krisi Pilling believes one of the most important parts of teaching is connecting with students both in and outside of the classroom.
That is why, when her students come to her with times for their football games, school play, dance recital or whatever else it may be, she marks it on her calendar and does all she can to be there.
“I think that’s where kids start performing differently for you in the classroom is when they see you going the extra mile to show up to their stuff that they know you don’t have to be at,” Pilling said.
School: North Forsyth High
Years teaching: 20
Subject: Social studies
It’s through this support and relationship building that she says she best connects with her sophomore students at North Forsyth High School where she has taught social studies for more than 16 years.
This dedication to her students is just one of the many reasons the community voted Pilling as the Forsyth County News’ Teacher of the Month for January. The FCN spoke with her about her experience teaching sophomore students, her brief time in a middle school classroom and why she loves working at North Forsyth.
Tell me a little bit about you and your career.
“I started my student teaching at North Forsyth back in 2001, so this has been home for me for a very long time. I live in the community now. This is home. All the kiddos who go through the high school I feel like are my kids. I’m invested in who they are as individuals, students, athletes and I care very much about their families.
“I teach social studies. Currently, I’m teaching AP Human Geography and World History, but I’ve kind of taught all subjects in social studies. I would definitely say my favorite and wheelhouse is World History with sophomore students.”
Have you always taught at North Forsyth High School?
“In 2014, I moved out West to New Mexico, so I was out there for a couple of years, and then when I moved back, I taught at Riverwatch Middle School for four years. Then [North Forsyth Principal Bob] Carnaroli, he brought me back.
“It’s kind of awesome in the sense that Mr. Carnaroli was here when I started my career, and so I firmly believe one of the reasons I was able to get back into the schools is because of our relationship. I was very blessed to be able to make it back, and it’s truly returning home. I mean, this is my wheelhouse. This is where I’m comfortable. I feel like I’m making the biggest difference when I’m in this school.”
Did you enjoy teaching middle school for that brief period?
“I feel like my time as a middle school teacher — I can’t put a price tag on it. It made me such a better teacher. I had to reach deep into the toolbox to figure out how to adapt things and work differently to meet the needs of middle school students versus high school students.
“Having to figure out how to manage all pieces of middle school students from classroom management to engagement, it just helped me do a better job when it came to high school students. Because typically, you give a lesson and high school students make a decision: I’m going to do it or I’m not. So how do I bridge that gap to get more kids to say I’m going to do this and I’m going to enjoy this.
“In middle school, you have to have fun activities that are hands-on and engaging. And we assume that’s not what high schoolers want, but it is. They still want to have fun. They still want to enjoy the learning that they’re doing.”
Did you plan to teach social studies coming out of school?
“Yes, I started my career definitely knowing that I wanted to do social studies. I was very lucky. I mean, social studies is a sought-after field. A lot of people enjoy history and want to teach it, so I was very lucky that I was able to move from student teaching here at North into a position.
“Which, of course, part of that is the willingness to coach and to help our student athletes be successful. I coached sideline cheerleading and competition cheerleading at North for a while and had some great success with that.
“When I started having babies, I hung up the coaching for a little bit, but currently, I am the department chair for the social studies department. So I’ve taken on some leadership responsibilities that have replaced those coaching responsibilities, but it’s very important to me to show up to our kids’ events, whether that’s band or lacrosse. The kids need to see you in the stands because that builds that relationship.”
What do you like most about teaching history and what piqued that interest for you?
“I think what piqued my interest most about social studies, it had to be [my college] professors. When I was in college, the history professors just seemed to have the passion and the knowledge and excitement for teaching their content.
“It wasn’t that math or science didn’t, but I think it’s the storytelling piece or how you can relate it to current events and how everything works together historically to where we are in a contemporary world and how we got to where we are.
“Their passion and their excitement for their content really made me realize this is what I want to do. I want to take a subject area that typically most people would say is not that exciting and bring the passion and excitement and enthusiasm to learn that.”
How have you liked living in the same county where you teach?
“I feel like being closer, being in the county, being in the community that I teach in, I have the opportunity to attend more events where, when I lived in Lumpkin County, it was a further drive. So you couldn’t just pick up and say, ‘I’m just going to run to the school and see part of the baseball game,’ when it’s a 30-minute drive.
“When you live in the community where you teach, you can [do that] and say, ‘Oh, I forgot about this baseball game. I’m going to run up there and catch a little bit.’ I think that makes a difference.”
What do you like most about teaching sophomores?
“First off, when I started my career, I started teaching World History right out of the gate. That’s a sophomore class, so those were some of the first students that I started working with. I think that’s part of the reason I have a fondness for them.
“It is unbelievable to see the growth from coming in in August when they’re just coming off their freshman year as the babies of the school to then watch their growth throughout the year when, come May, they are stepping into an upperclassmen role as a junior.
“And when I say the growth, I mean physical, the maturity, emotionally. That is a really pivotal year for our high school students. So when we look at a particular student group, I just feel like the reason why I am really focused in that area is because I see the importance of building that confidence for our sophomores.”
Do you ever stay in touch with former students after they graduate?
“Definitely. I think all teachers have some of those kids. For me, it’s more about the kids who take the time to come back, visit, reach out.
“As a high school teacher, it’s amazing how many relationships you form and you keep that once they go on and graduate college, they want to share marriage announcements and baby announcements. It’s just so rewarding when you’re able to see the fruits of their labor and how they have gone on to be successful adults and have successful careers.
“I had a cheerleader, Hannah Gossett, and a student, Colby Gossett. Colby Gossett plays for the Falcons now. [At the time,] I thought he had a football career in college maybe, but now he’s in the NFL. But when he was a sophomore, he started dating my cheerleader, and they are about to have their first baby. It’s just so sweet to see those relationships and see their success. It’s really cool.”
What do you like to do outside of the classroom?
“My family sings gospel music professionally, so singing and church has always been at the forefront of my life. It’s very important to who I am as a person.
“And from a very young age, my grandparents always took me to UGA games. I can’t remember a year that I haven’t been in the stands at Stanford Stadium, so I was very blessed to be able to do that growing up. The Bulldogs are a huge part of my life.
“And my husband and girls, we are all sports fanatics and it all draws us together.”