My daughter, now 7, and my son, 5, have both had Kirsten Williams as their kindergarten teacher. Kirsten took the anxiety out of school for both of my kids as well as my husband and I. Both of my children have emotional and/or social behavioral issues and both were involved in various types of therapy prior to entering and during their kindergarten years. While both of my kids suffer from anxiety, they express it in very different ways. My daughter craves validation and kindness while my son acts out and swings between needing snuggles or needing space, needing intellectual stimulation or being completely “checked out." Before each of them started school my husband and I worried for weeks about their ability to be successful due to their issues. Kirsten, like some kind of superhero, was able to balance the personalities and issues of my children with her high academic, behavioral, and social expectations in her classroom of twenty-five additional emotional and complex 5-year-olds. My son, while academically prepared for kindergarten, was still emotionally and socially behind other children when sign-ups for kindergarten rolled around. Kirsten had been able to help my daughter through her transition in such an expert way that when we found out she was my son’s assigned teacher we knew things were going to be okay.
I have never met a teacher with Kirsten’s patience, emotional investment, and ability. Her classroom is engaging, challenging and supportive. My son, still in Kirsten’s class, often struggles with communicating but comes home nearly every day and tells us the most random facts from his lessons at school, which surprises us every time because he is usually non-communicative person. “Did you know snails don’t have ears on their heads? They have tentacles [not accurate, but cute!] on their head to help them see, but no ears!” “Two weeks?! That’s how long it takes a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly!” “Did you know Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world?” We live near a university and the classes are pretty culturally diverse, and Kirsten has created an environment of understanding and acceptance. She is able to create an environment of support and caring among nearly 30 very different 5/6-year-old personalities; I wonder if that’s possible in a room full of adults! Talking to children in her class versus other kindergarten classes provides evidence of the high academic and social standards Kirsten sets in her classroom. She teaches to each student’s potential despite the many differences in talents and abilities. She is a certified Math Specialist and handles the tutoring for the other kindergarten classes as well as students from older grades. I spoke with a neighbor last year whose son still wasn’t reading by the second half of the year and within a few weeks of tutoring with Kirsten was nearly caught up to the rest of his class (she has secret teaching superpowers, I’m sure of it).
I still struggle with the balance of strictness and cuddling as a parent and Kirsten makes it look easy. She has clearly defined expectations for work and behavior and sticks to them, which can be a difficult transition for some young ones, but balances those expectations with such a kind heart that the kids can’t help but be excited to spend the day with her. I spoke with another parent recently about how worried she was about Kirsten’s high behavioral expectations, but then saw that Kirsten would spend many minutes each morning just cuddling her daughter. Kirsten’s incredible sense of empathy took away this student’s (and her mother’s) anxiety and worry about school and created a comfortable and caring place for her to learn. She even added mindfulness practice to the daily schedule to help all her students learn to deal with their big emotions. When I ask my daughter what she is grateful for that day she always says school, and I credit Kirsten for that. Kirsten’s tireless work in creating a safe and constructive environment provided the space for my daughter to grow and inspired her to have confidence in herself. Kirsten takes the different abilities and talents of each child and incorporates their needs into her lessons. I honestly believe that if my children had had a different kindergarten teacher our daily lives would be very different. We had already seen how Kirsten was able to encourage my daughter to be her best self, and Kirsten’s time with my son over the past 9 months has changed him in so many subtle and positive ways that I couldn’t possibly list them all.
Kirsten goes above and beyond reasonable expectations for parent-teacher communication. She writes us personalized, detailed notes about our son’s progress nearly every week, and sometimes every day, whether his behavior has been praise-worthy or is something he needs to work on outside of school. She must work nearly 24 hours a day to give each of her students and their family the information needed to work as a team to ensure student success. Maybe not needing sleep is part of her superpowers! She has designed special reward systems just for our son to help him try to stay motivated to act appropriately at school, and adds more time to her busy schedule to check in with him four times a day just to make sure he is at least aware of how he is doing. My son has had multiple disruptive issues with getting along with other kids in the classroom and Kirsten has, through her exceptional teaching abilities and nearly-supernatural empathy, still gotten the other children to treat him with compassion and understanding while maintaining the high behavioral and academic expectations for the students in her classroom. My son still has a long way to go socially, but so many parents of other students have told me how much their children enjoy being around my son that my husband and I no longer worry about him being ostracized for his differences. We will be forever grateful to her for what she has done for both of our children.
I can’t think of another person who more deserves an award like this. She makes handling a classroom of 5-year-olds look easy and what she is able to accomplish with her kids is above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Her support and investment in each of her students is superhuman. Kirsten has given my children the best possible foundation for their academic careers and, I think, the rest of their lives. I tell every neighbor I can about how amazing she is, whether or not they have their own kids entering kindergarten! Kirsten is an amazing example to future teachers as a paragon of what teachers can be. I believe she has been one of the most influential people in my children’s lives and absolutely merits the Honored award.