If you had asked me what my career goals were when I was in grade 8, teaching would probably not have made my top 10 list.
My mom was a Kindergarten teacher at West Edmonton Christian School for almost 30 years. Although she taught part-time for as long as I was living at home, she was always busy organizing her classes, making copies, phoning parents, cutting things out, organizing her classroom, and writing report cards (oh, the dreaded report card weekend…). That, in addition to looking after us at home! I don’t think she had much time to herself.
NOT THE LIFE FOR ME
So, I decided that that was not the life for me. By the time I was in grade 11, my sights were pretty firmly set on following in the footsteps of my Dad with a career in science. So I headed off to Dordt College in Iowa, as a Biology major, with the plan to spend a semester in the Latin American Studies program. Twenty years ago (this month!) I left winter behind and flew to San Jose, Costa Rica, where I met my host family and 32 other students from colleges all around North America.
Those were some of the most formative months of my life. Besides a crash-course in Spanish (thank goodness for high school French to give me a good grounding in language study), we traveled all over the beautiful country of Costa Rica, and up into Nicaragua and Guatemala as well. Sometimes we traveled as a whole group, but frequently we broke off into in a small group of students taking part in the special Biology track of the program (four girls – two from Oklahoma, and two named Kristin. Go figure).
We had some amazing adventures, from watching a leatherback turtle lay her eggs on a remote beach in Tortuguero National Park in the middle of the night, to swimming in a river that was warmed by an active volcano, to very nearly being bitten on the shin by a monkey that was trying to run off with my camera.
HEAVEN ON EARTH
For two of the weeks, we lived with host families in what seemed like the nearest thing to heaven that I could imagine on earth, in the tiny community of San Gerardo de Dota, hidden in a valley south of San Jose. This wasn’t a jungle, but a cloud forest—lush, green, quiet, and home to a number of nesting pairs of endangered quetzals, one of the most magnificent birds in the world.
We spent our days working on research projects, tramping around through the forest, making observations of the quetzals, and eating freshly caught trout from the river. At the end of our stay, we presented the results of our research to the entire local community—in Spanish. (Now that was an authentic presentation of learning!)
ARE YOU SURE KRISTIN?
It was hard to leave (figuratively AND literally—I think the road into that valley was one of the craziest roads I have ever been on). So a few weeks later, when my parents and sisters came to visit over their Spring Break, we went back. As I showed them around San Gerardo de Dota, absolutely brimming with excitement because I had the chance to explain to them how the different pieces of the cloud forest ecosystem worked together, teaching them how to mimic a quetzal’s call, and helping them spot the long tail of a male quetzal sticking out of its nest, my mom asked me, “Are you sure you don’t want to be a teacher? You sure seem to be enjoying this.”
That planted the seed. I did enjoy it! I loved not only learning about how amazing and intricate this world is, but also sharing what I was learning with others, and in doing so, to get a little glimpse of our Creator. And not only in science, but in every subject—from math to art, and language to geography.
So I jumped right in. After spending two semesters as a botany and zoology teaching assistant, I graduated from Dordt with a Biology major and Spanish minor. Then God led my husband Kevin and I on all kinds of amazing adventures as we spent 3 ½ years teaching at the International Christian Academy in Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire, and the International Christian School of Budapest, in Diosd, Hungary. In 2000, we moved back to Iowa for graduate school at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where I also spent two years teaching Grade 8 science in a large, public junior high school, before we finally moved to Abbotsford and I took a position at ACMS nearly 10 years ago.
Even on the days when I am tired and my house is a disaster, or I have a nasty cold and I can’t imagine grading a set of science labs until after I get a good night of sleep, I have to admit it – my mom was right!