Kristen Kane has all the right ingredients of a new student. She’s eager to learn, likes to make new friends, and enjoys embarking on new experiences.
But Kane is not your average student. In fact, she’s not a student at all. The Silver Spring lifelong resident is the 2017-2018 Montgomery County Public Schools Teacher of the Year and is in the running to be Maryland’s Teacher of the Year.
She has been a kindergarten or first-grade teacher at Forest Knolls Elementary School in Silver Spring since 2008 and taught several years before that prior to taking time off to raise her three children, all of whom attend County schools.
Kane teaches only kindergarten now. When questioned why she believes she was chosen as teacher of the year, Kane replied, “I have been asking myself that. I really generally love what I do, and I guess that just came through.”
Josiah Cyllah, 6, a student in Kane's class, is sure she is the best teacher, because, “She teaches everybody a lot of stuff.”
Evan Graham-Wright, 6, said her class is always fun, especially during the daily academic five rotation. And he is very excited that his teacher won a trophy.
Kane also received $2,000 from the Greenblatt Educational Fund and a one-year car lease from Fitzgerald Auto Mall.
It’s not just her students who think highly of her. Principal Evan Bernstein also praised Kane, noting, “She really meets the needs of all the students in her kindergarten class. She puts her heart and soul into everything she does.”
And, exclaimed former student Garon Criner, now a first grader, he beat Kane in their staring contests. “I did it with Mrs. Kane last year, and she blinked.”
Kane, who now lives “right across the street” from where she grew up, always wanted to be a teacher. “I always loved children, especially young children.”
But when she went to the University of Maryland, she chose to major in journalism and public relations. She worked in those fields for a little while but soon realized “that wasn’t my forever career.”
She returned to the University of Maryland, got her teaching degree, and entered a world much different than the kindergarten she had attended.
Back then kindergarten was only a half-day. She and her classmates would tell stories, and the teacher would write down their words. Today, students “write their own stories,” gradually learning proper spelling and grammar, she said. Kindergarten “is so much more academic,” even since her early teaching years.
“I sometimes wonder if we are pushing them a little too hard," she said.
Mrs. Kane’s classroom also stresses learning to play and share. Every wall space is covered with math and word facts and the alphabet. Throw rugs the students sit on show the days of the week and months of the year.
Most of her students – but not all – have attended some schooling before beginning kindergarten and have learned how to be a student, she said.
But “the range is huge” -- concerning who knows their colors, who can recognize all their letters, who can read , and who understands how to play and work together. Reading is Mrs. Kane's favorite subject, “especially in kindergarten, because they are learning to read.” She never gets tired of watching a child first realize he or she can now read.
Being her students' first teacher is special, she said. “I want them to always remember their kindergarten teacher. I love that I have that relationship. We are bonded forever.”
Kane considers herself fortunate to work in the County, where she has the supplies she needs, and teachers receive respect.
When she reads about teachers throughout the country who are striking to get a decent wage, she said, “I’m sad. I read a story about someone who has two other jobs” besides teaching to pay expenses.
“Montgomery County is pretty generous. There is not much that I lack,” she said. When pressed, she said she would like more training programs “to give us fresh ideas.”
The two other finalists for Montgomery County Teacher of the year are Edwina Kollo, a mathcontent specialist at Shady Grove Middle School, and Janet Gallagher, a resource teacher at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.