Kali Crump spent part of her summer dreading the start of the new school year, not only because of the added stress and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, but also because she was about to take on something entirely new — kindergarten students.
Crump had taught second grade for her previous three years at Sawnee Elementary School, but when administrators called her before pre-planning at the start of the school year to tell her she would need to take over as a kindergarten teacher, she immediately began to worry.
School: Sawnee Elementary
Years teaching: 4
“I would have never chosen to move to kindergarten just because I was like, ‘How do I start teaching these kids from scratch?’” Crump said. “At least when they come in from second grade, they already know all their letters, their numbers and you can just kind of pick up where the last year left off.”
After starting the year and growing closer to her students, she realized she had nothing to worry about. They started learning so quickly, and even though some of them had not gone to preschool, they are already starting to pick up on how to read.
She fell in love with those moments when their ‘lightbulb’ went off and they finally understood something, and of course, she fell in love with their sweet nature.
“Now, I can’t imagine the year going any other way,” Crump said. “It was like a blessing in disguise.”
The community could not picture the kindergarten class without Crump either, which is why they voted for her to be the Forsyth County News Teacher of the Month for December.
Crump spoke with the FCN about her transition from second grade to kindergarten, how she decided she wanted to go into teaching and her love for her new corgi pup, Pancakes.
What was it like starting in a kindergarten class this year?
“I was really scared at first, but they have picked up on stuff a lot quicker than I thought they would just because I didn’t know what to expect. Are they going to have some prior knowledge? But they are really quick learners and they are super resilient. Any challenge you give them, they will take it on. They’re so fearless, and they are not afraid to fail. And that’s what I always tell them, ‘It is OK if you fail. We all make mistakes. I make mistakes all the time, and I’m still here. You just have to keep trying.’
“I have a [paraprofessional] in here with me all the time, and oh my gosh, I don’t know how I would have done it without her. She has been in kindergarten for five or six years, so she knows what she’s doing. She is giving me all of these ideas of things she’s tried in the past, things that haven’t worked, [like when] she thinks something I’m giving them might be a little too challenging. It’s nice to have somebody else in here to bounce ideas off of.”
What would you say is your favorite grade to teach now that you’ve done both?
“I think kindergarten. I’ve had so many people ask me that this year. ‘Are you going to go back to second grade?’ I don’t know if I’ll ever have the choice to go back, but I don’t know that I would want to even if I did have the choice because these kids are just so sweet and loving. Every five seconds, I’ll turn around, and there’s a kid here ready to give me a hug. Or it’s just the simplest things like they’ll pick up a rock or a flower outside. That’s all they have to give you, but they literally want to give you the only thing that they can.
“And it’s just so exciting to see how much they’ve grown since the beginning. It’s only been four or five months, and just to see [the growth] since August is crazy. I mean, you see them grow in the other grades, but I feel like in kindergarten is where you see the most.”
How has it been trying to get the students used to all of the changes this year?
“It honestly hasn’t been as crazy as I thought it was going to be. Coming into it, I [throught] they’re going to be all over the place, and with all of these masks and stuff, it’s going to be crazy. But they have handled it … well, and I think it’s because they’ve never, unless they went to preschool, really been in a structured environment before. So this is all they know. They don’t really know any different than to come to school in a mask.
“I cannot believe how many kindergarteners can keep their mask on all day long, and I think that’s because their parents are stressing the seriousness of it. They obviously want them to stay in school. You do your best with online [learning], but nothing is as important as face-to-face learning because you’re not going to be able to help them the way you can if you can’t physically see what they’re struggling with.
“Even with us [teachers], having to be behind a screen from March to May, I feel like we were missing that social interaction, too. So if we’re suffering from it, imagine how these 5-6 year olds are at the age when they really need it the most.”
What made you decide to go into early education?
“I just always knew that I wanted to do this ever since I was little. I feel like that’s such a cliche answer, but it’s true. No one in my family had ever taught, but I had a younger brother and he would come home from school and I would force him to sit down and play school with me all night.
“I just feel that you have the ability to make such a difference [with the kids], and I remember I still have those few teachers that I can think back to [who I loved]. They are the reason that I wanted to be a teacher because of how much I loved going to school just to see them.
“I feel like I wanted to do the same thing for someone else and be their reason that they get excited to come to school.”
What do you like to do outside of school?
“Well, I just got a new puppy. She’s a little corgi puppy, and her name is Pancake. We got her in May, so it’s literally like raising a child. I mean, I don’t have any kids, but I feel like it is great practice. We come home exhausted everyday, and she is ready to run wild and just go crazy.
“But oh my gosh, she is so much fun, and she’s so spunky. Most of my free time is spent with her and taking her to the dog park. Then just spending time with my family. My parents still live in Ellijay, so we go up and visit them a lot. We like going to the apple houses and the pumpkin farms and stuff around there, especially this time of year.”