story by Claire Miller
Kellan Morris (B.S.E. ’19) began the 2019-2020 school year as a new sixth grade social studies teacher at Mason Creek Middle School in Douglas County, Ga., focused on connecting with her students and establishing her classroom routines and structure.
She expected to learn a great deal about education in her first year of teaching, but the recent COVID-19 pandemic has given her additional challenges that she’s learned to face head-on.
Morris, who was recently voted the Middle School Teacher of the Year by the Douglas County Sentinel’s readership, took the time to answer questions about her experiences at Georgia State University and as a middle school teacher navigating the shift to teaching from a distance.
Q: What made you decide to attend Georgia State to earn your degree?
A: “I attended Georgia State initially because I wanted to be in the city, but that was just the start of it. The transformation that took place in my life while attending Georgia State was incredible. The university completely opened my eyes to life outside of my own culture. In going to Georgia State, I gained so much more than a degree – I gained a greater understanding and appreciation for the world around me, as well as a humble understanding of the students now in my classroom.”
Q: What was your favorite class/activity/memory from the College of Education & Human Development?
A: “I learned so much in each class, and all of the instructors in the College of Education & Human Development have played such a huge part in who I am as an educator today. The cultural beads activity we did in Dr. Stephanie Cross’s class was so enlightening and in each of my classes, I learned that every person around me is going through a battle that we may never know about. Dr. Cross, Dr. Jacob Hackett and Dr. Caroline Sullivan – and their willingness to go to bat for their students and understand them – led me to be the educator I am.”
Q: You’re in your first year teaching at Mason Creek Middle School in Douglas County, Ga. What were your first few weeks/months of teaching like this year?
A: “The first few weeks/months were spent connecting with my students in every way I could and creating classroom norms. It was so important for me to gain their respect as their teacher. In doing so, I needed to show them respect and get to know each of them. As for the curriculum, it was tough at first because you’re still learning what works best for you as a teacher and trying to meet each student’s needs so they comprehend the lessons you’re teaching. It gets much easier as the year goes on, as you communicate and build community within your classroom.”
Q: What has it been like to transition from in-person teaching to teaching from a distance, especially during your first year of teaching?
A: “Transitioning to digital learning has been tough, especially when trying to reach students who do not have access to technology. I have a two-year-old at home and teaching digitally seemed almost impossible at first. Luckily, my school district and administration have worked to make it less stressful for teachers, which eliminates a lot of stress for parents and students. At the beginning of each week, I send out a newsletter to parents and students with expectations/goals for the week; I provide a suggested schedule for them and encourage them to keep a routine. I’m supported by a great group of students, parents, colleagues and administrators who offer support, guidance and endless grace as we all continue to navigate this digital learning journey.”
Q: What was your reaction to being named Middle School Teacher of the Year by the Douglas County Sentinel?
A: “Grateful, honored and humbled. I take so much pride in my job and know that I was born to be a mentor/educator to middle school students. This accolade was a reminder that I am doing exactly what I was called to do. I am honored that people in my community see that I truly pour my heart and soul into my kids.”
Q: What advice would you give other new teachers facing some of the same challenges you’ve faced this year?
- Be flexible in your approach to teaching. It doesn’t always work out how you expect, so develop things with the understanding that you can’t change circumstances, but you can change the way in which you approach circumstances.
- Build community. Since day one, I have told my students and their parents that I’m learning to navigate this new journey of teaching daily, and I will mess up. My students’ parents have shown me so much support. I stay in constant contact with them, updating them on what’s going on in the classroom, what I’m proud of and what I expect. I have built great relationships with the parents and students and I believe it has played a vital role in my success this year.
- Stand your ground and follow through with what you say you’re going to do. If a student’s actions should have consequences, then they should face those consequences. Don’t get angry; instead, show them that you’re disappointed. When you build relationships with your students, they’re not going to want to let you down as their teacher.
- You can’t pour from an empty cup; refill yours so that you can pour into your students’ and colleagues’ cups. Stay away from negativity that can drain your cup. There will be hard days but when they come, remind yourself why you chose to be an educator.
- It is okay to ask for help. I encourage future educators to find a mentor in education that can help guide you through your first year and the years to come. I am so proud to have graduated from Georgia State and honored to have had the professors I had, knowing that I can (and have) reached out to them throughout my first year to ask for guidance.
- You matter. Give yourself the same grace you’d give to others.