Some people gradually realize that the teaching profession suits them. Kathleen Avery knew all along.
“I was definitely one of those kids who was already playing teacher in kindergarten,” she says. “I already knew that I wanted to be a teacher.”
Kathleen, who goes by the nickname “Kaylee,” is now married and a mother of two. She was born Kathleen Long in LaGrange, IN, and attended Lakeland High School. When it came time to make her college decision, IU South Bend was a natural choice, and the precocious Kaylee Long was certain that the School of Education should be her destination.
It was only a matter of zeroing in on the ideal grade level to focus on.
“I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to go into elementary or secondary,” she says. “But by my second semester, I knew I wanted to do elementary.”
She graduated in 2016 and wasted no time flailing in the job market. It turns out that while she was training at Madison STEAM Academy in South Bend while still an undergraduate, she was actually apprenticing for her future job.
“I always got along very well with the staff and with Deb Martin, who was principal at the time,” Avery says.
Martin, who is a fellow IU South Bend alumna as well as former longtime assistant women’s volleyball coach at IUSB, was in the role of Madison principal and she knew she did not have to look far when she needed a new recruit.
“She had a teaching position that had just opened up, so she reached out to me,” Avery says. “I just knew I wanted to be here.”
She took the helm of a second-grade class, and by all accounts it’s been a perfect fit.
Avery’s ascension to Teacher of the Year status started with her immediate colleagues. The process begins with each school within the South Bend Community School Corporation nominating someone from within its own ranks. The teachers at Madison chose Avery as their nominee for the SBCSC-wide contest.
The announcement was made at a ceremony at Riley High School in May of 2022. Avery was given no advance notice of the final result, so she found out on the spot that she was taking home the prize.
“They were announcing the names of everyone who had made it to the top ten, and I didn’t hear my name, so I thought, ‘Oh well, maybe not this year.’ Then they announced that I had won. I was a little shocked,” she says.
The difference between STEM and STEAM is that a STEAM program goes a step further than science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEAM systems also integrate the arts. The concept makes a lot of sense, but it requires even more work for teachers. To be saluted publicly for her efforts has been a morale booster for Avery.
“It’s not something you need, but it definitely encourages you to keep going,” she says. “Education is not always celebrated the way that educators know it should be.”