Jen Shearer (right) prepares to hand the key to her classroom to former student Madison Kinnane. (Photo provided)
Sandy Knooihuizen hands her key to daughter Caitlin Moore. (Photo provided)
By Jason Wesseldyk
“Following in Mrs. Shearer’s footsteps.”
Those are the words written on the “Future Teacher Award” Madison Kinnane received as a student in Jen Shearer’s third-grade class at Dix Street Elementary in 2009.
Now, 14 years later, those words couldn’t ring truer.
After Shearer announced her retirement following a 26-year tenure at Dix Street, Kinnane was named as her replacement.
The pair were part of a ceremonial “handing over of the keys” celebration that was held on the last day of the school year—Thursday, June 8—with Shearer giving Kinnane the keys to the classroom.
“I was thrilled that Madison would take over my classroom,” Shearer said. “It’s a strange feeling leaving a classroom after 26 years, but I know it will be in good hands.
“Madison did a pre-internship with me and did so well that I knew it would be a good fit. Leaving it in the hands of a stranger may have left me wondering. Now I don’t have to.”
Kinnane said her “Future Teacher Award” will be displayed in the classroom.
“Once I found out that I was going to be taking over Mrs. Shearer’s classroom, I knew I had to go find that certificate again,” she said. “I will be hanging it on the wall of my classroom in the fall and I plan to continue the tradition of giving individual end-of-the-year awards to my third graders as well.”
Shearer said the qualities she saw in Kinnane as a third-grader are still present today.
“She is hard working, persistent, patient, kind and a good listener,” Shearer said. “I remember she also had good writing skills and helped me help her classmates. That is usually my criteria for that award each year.”
When it comes to the advice she has for Kinnane—and any teacher new to the profession—Shearer said tapping into the knowledge of more experienced colleagues is key.
“Teaching is hard work and those people around you are the ones that sustain you,” Shearer said. “I couldn’t have lasted in the profession all those years without the support of all my colleagues—the other teachers and all staff members in the building.”
Kinnane feels fortunate to count Shearer as one of her mentors.
“As a student, Mrs. Shearer continued to grow my passion for learning,” Kinnane said. “As an adult, I’ve been lucky to be able to turn to Jen as a mentor. I’ve learned so much from her the past two years.”
Shearer, who plans to use her retirement to spend more time with family, said finding that kind of support is even more important than ever given the increasing demands that have been placed on teachers in recent years.
“When I started teaching, there was more time to have fun with the students and more time to connect with your fellow teachers,” she said. “It is not that way anymore and I am not so sure it’s for the better.
“It saddens me that the profession is suffering because it is a wonderful fulfilling job with a schedule that allows you to spend time with your own children too. Public school teachers have the hardest and most important job in our country.
“I hope new teachers like Madison can endure today’s demands and stick with it as long as I did.”
Like Shearer, Dix Street para-pro Sandy Knooihuizen also retired at the end of the school year. And like Shearer, Knooihuizen also had a connection to her replacement.
Knooihuizen’s daughter Caitlin Moore has been hired to replace her mother.
“Working at OPS has been an absolute blessing in my life for the past 22 years and I am so excited my daughter is continuing in my footsteps,” Knooihuizen said.
Knooihuizen’s advice for Moore was simple.
“Love those kiddos like crazy because you never know what they may have going on at home,” she said. “You are their constant.”
During her time at Dix Street, Knooihuizen had the opportunity to work with five of her seven grandchildren in some capacity.
“I will miss seeing their faces in the hallway,” she said. “Two of them will still be at Dix Street, and I know they will be in good hands with their mom here now.”