Teacher honored for impact, unique approach
October 31, 2013
KEEGO HARBOR — It’s not unusual to stand on the second floor of Roosevelt Elementary School and notice the ceiling shaking as music fills the halls of the third floor. For the students and staff of the school, they know it’s another typical day for Kristi Law, a teacher in the magnet program for talented and gifted students, and her 76 students.
When Playworks Coach Bennie Szczepkowski began working at the elementary, he experienced first-hand Law’s unique and impactful teaching style. Law’s classroom is above the gym and his office.
“She was standing on top of the table, doing aerobics and dancing with the students,” Szczepkowski said. And during the spring of this year, Law’s energetic and supportive personality drove Szczepkowski to nominate her to be showcased in the book “American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom.”
“She’s very small, but there’s a lot of energy coming from that woman,” Szczepkowski said.
“American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom” reportedly illuminates an essential profession and the teacher reinventing the classroom through innovation, compassion and creativity. Across the country, 50 inspirational teachers were selected to fill the book, which captures each individual’s character through photojournalism, first-person accounts and an introductory biography, Law said. And while each instructor brings his or her own niche to the book, Law’s four pages focus on her enthusiasm and problem-solving techniques.
“She’s really a good teacher. And she’s not that strict, but she’s not so laid back,” said Jared Niskar, a fifth-grade magnet student at Roosevelt Elementary. “She’s kind of short, and so everyone can see her, she’ll stand up on the table and dance for everyone to stretch.”
Standing at 4 feet, 11 inches, Law said the concept of dancing on the table began out of practicality as a way to get the mob of 76 kids to see her, and it doesn’t help that the majority of her students are taller than she is.
“Even when I was pregnant, I was climbing up on the tables, teaching them the sprinkler and running man. It’s something I’ll never stop doing. It’s me in a little five-minute activity and paints a picture of who I am,” Law said.
The extensive process for narrowing down the list of candidates for the top 50 heroes in the classroom spanned a few months. First, Law said, she was emailed a variety of essay questions, and at this point, she didn’t really know the depth of the book and the honor it held. Law then went through a three and a half hour interview, discussing everything from her childhood experiences, to becoming a teacher, to how she felt in her first job.
“They really wanted to paint a full timeline of how we got here,” she said. “And the pictures they painted were exactly me.”
Once the interview process was completed, photographers were sent to Roosevelt to document her teaching style, and Law didn’t learn until mid-July that she not only was selected for the book, but she was the only teacher selected in Michigan.
“It was a very cool and well- deserved recognition for her,” Principal Beth Feiten said. “She doesn’t mind rolling up her sleeves and working on ways to help education improve.”
Law has been teaching at Roosevelt for 15 years, having begun with lower elementary, as she assumed that was what she was going to be best at. But after four years, Law found her calling with the talented and gifted student program. Growing up, Law was in a setting similar to Roosevelt’s magnet program, and she said that she has since tried to channel the teaching techniques and inspiration of her former teachers.
“I’ve learned a lot from her. I feel like she’s not too strict … but she’s not like a softy,” said Grace Redman, a fifth-grade magnet student who has had Law for a few years.
In addition to inspiring young minds, Law is also the elementary mentor for West Bloomfield School District, where she helps new teachers or teachers who need additional assistance acquiring skills. The level of privacy between the teachers, as Law does not report back to the district, allows each instructor to bounce ideas off of the other and reshape the classroom, Law explained.
According to Feiten, Law also helps with the fifth-grade safety patrol, coordinates the bank and school program, and has been a part of just about every committee that the school has had.
On Oct. 13, the publishers of “American Teachers: Heroes in the Classroom” partnered with Barnes & Noble across the nation, and advanced copies of the book were sent to various stores. Law didn’t necessarily intend on signing books, she said, but as past students and families showed their support, she remembered special things about each person.
“It speaks volumes for her impact on the community,” Feiten said.
In addition to being showcased in the book, Law was recognized at a Board of Education meeting, where she received a star certificate from the board and was honored by the staff and students at a school assembly. Mayor Sid Ruben and County Commissioner John Scott presented her with a certificate.
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