WESTMINSTER — For Megan Knight, the new kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Kurn Hattin — and a former student there — her new job is a little like a homecoming.
"At first it was so weird," she commented in a recent interview "It took some getting used to, but it's been awesome. It was like I never left — this place is like a really big family. I've kept in touch over the years, so coming back was not a big deal. The only thing that's been weird is the staff saying 'Call me Tim,' 'Call me Christine," and I'm like, 'I can't call you that.'"
Knight came to Kurn Hattin with her younger sister when she was 10 and her sister was two years younger. When she graduated — as the valedictorian — from eighth grade and went on to high school, she was already thinking about returning to work at the school.
"Some of my old teachers and my mom would joke about how awesome it would be if I got to come back, but I didn't really think it would actually happen," she recalled.
According to its website, Kurn Hattin is "a charitable home and school for boys and girls, ages 5 to 15, who are affected by family tragedy, poverty, homelessness, abuse, or other family hardship ... when their families, for whatever reason, are unable to care for them and meet their needs."
After graduating third in her class in high school — "right down the road at Vermont Academy" — Knight went to Westfield State University, where she majored in elementary education and liberal studies, with a concentration in math.
She recalled that her preparation in teaching was intense, with observation hours in two schools before more hours starting to teach along with the classroom teacher.
"And then when those hours were done, I did student teaching," she said.
She estimated that her student-teaching stint amounted to 450 hours.
"I was in a fourth-grade classroom all year long," she said. "I had 27 kids, just me and the teacher. It was challenging but it was good; I definitely learned a lot from it."
Last spring she began job-hunting.
"At the end of my senior year I came to visit, and one of the teachers told me about the job," she remembered. "I was in the process of applying, but this job was always at the top once I found out it was an option. So I applied, and it happened to work."
In the summer she got to know her students when she worked in Kurn Hattin's summer camp before taking over the kindergarten and first grade, currently six students in all. She commented that her experience as a Kurn Hattin student informs her teaching, even though she was older when she arrived at the school.
"It's better for them to be here. I remember how it was when I was here as a kid," she said. "I just remember how much the staff helped me grow and overcome whatever issues I was dealing with, and I wanted to do that. I think a lot of the issues are the same, but the way they handle them is different because they are so young.
"I think for me, I would bury what I was feeling," she continued. "With them being so little, they let it out by talking back or acting out in some way, but once they sit down and talk about why they did it, it helps them realize why their behaviors are wrong and how they can change them the next time.
"When they're in the classroom I try to help them understand the emotions that they're dealing with and understand that that's OK," she said. "I know one of the kids really struggles with not being able to control everything that's going on here, because of the rules and structure and routine they have to follow, so I try to give them a chance in the classroom to be in control, to show them that even though they can't control everything they can still have some say in what happens."
Balancing academic skills and affective issues can be challenging.
"I think the hardest part is dealing with the behavior and rule issues," Knight said. "Sometimes they can distract from the schoolwork."
She loves seeing her students learn.
"My favorite part is those little moments like 'I got it, I know what you're trying to teach me,'" she said. "You can see their whole faces light up and they get so excited.
"This girl yesterday — we'd been working on counting from zero to 10 and she always got stuck on number six," she went on. "The other day we were singing as a class, and she was finally able to do the whole thing, and she jumped up and said, 'Miss Knight, I did it I did it!' and she was so excited!"
Maggie Brown Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com.