As her pen glides across her students’ tests, biology and oceanography teacher Kaitlin Rulon finds her first year of teaching to be a great success. While teaching students, Rulon also learns from them.
“I enjoy getting to know [my students,] and I feel like that’s something that I’m really passionate about,” Rulon said. “Rock Bridge’s philosophy of how to engage kids and invest in kids is definitely in line with what I think.”
RBHS was home to three first-year teachers this year; Rulon, world studies and pop culture teacher Bree Engebritson and biology teacher Kyle Reznicek.
All of these teachers are grateful for the easy, supportive transition into their new jobs. The shift was challenging, but RBHS has been a comforting transition into teaching for the first time.
“Being a first year teacher at Rock Bridge compared to other [schools] is much easier,” Rulon said. “Just between the faculty and kids, it’s a great environment, and talking with other first year teachers [at other schools,] I’ve had a much more fun, exciting and less stressful year than they have.”
Going into her first year, the large class sizes and the lack of familiarity with her fellow teachers intimidated Engebritson, but the positive impact she had on her students reassured her confidence as a teacher.
“The gratifying feeling when you see a kid start to make these connections and they start pointing out things that you didn’t even notice about what you are teaching,” Engebritson said. “That’s really cool to see.”
Reznicek also connected with his students personally by learning about their interests outside the classroom. Reznicek said what he likes most about teaching are the odd few minutes at the beginning and end of class where he can get to know his students.
Finding support from Matt Dingler, her partner teacher, Engebritson was grateful for his help throughout the year. During a lesson, Dingler would chime in or steer Engebritson on the right course if she ever got stuck, which was helpful for the whole classroom, Dingler said.
“I believe that I have been helpful to Engebritson by providing wisdom for what we’re doing in class.” Dingler said. “It’s hard to walk into what we do at Rock Bridge.”
Similarly, Rulon said she was thankful for the help of her department, the administration and other teachers, especially her mentor teacher,biology instructor Amy McKenzie. She also built unique connections with her sophomore students, she said, because they shared the experience of getting used to a new school.
“What I like most is just the relationships I get to build with kids and seeing them every day,” Rulon said. “That’s really why I wanted to become a teacher.”
Reznicek was appreciative for the support he found with the science department, especially Stephanie Harman and Rex Beltz. Through their willingness to help out, whether it was with computer problems, where to find delivered copies or knowing what to do on drill days, they made Reznicek’s first year simpler.
“It’s really hard to ask for help, because you want to feel like you know what you’re doing and you want to feel like you’re prepared and you’re contributing,” Reznicek said. “It’s really likely that there are just some things that I wouldn’t have learned if [Harman and Beltz] had not been there to offer the help.”
Reznicek used exciting lessons to connect with his students. When Reznicek brought bearded dragons to his class, it was a thrilling new experience for the students and himself.
“The first day we brought out the bearded dragons was a huge ordeal. I had girls screaming. I had one girl run out in the hallway and she was almost in tears, they were so scared of them,” Reznicek said. “Now everybody’s really comfortable, and my kids will just go pick them up.”
Other unforgettable moments boosted the new teachers’ excitement in becoming a part of the RBHS staff. One event that will always be the “peak of the year” for Rulon was Golden Cow. Besides entertainment for the students, the event also provided time for the teachers to get involved in RBHS outside of teaching and to get to know other faculty members.
“Golden Cow was very memorable because we had a ton of fun putting it together, and some very funny moments,” Rulon said. “It was just really exciting to shock all of our students with our dancing skills, and then winning it was very exciting as well.”
Experiences like these, in addition to the school’s philosophy, made it obvious that teaching at RBHS in particular was Rulon’s “number one choice.” The school’s freedom with responsibility policy agrees with her personal philosophy of making students and faculty equals, which creates a synchronized and cohesive working facility.
“I think Rock Bridge is unique because of the freedom that students have and just the willingness of the staff to let students learn in different ways,” Rulon said. “Everybody has a voice at Rock Bridge, and that’s just very different than a lot of the other schools that I’ve seen.”
Although each teacher had a different experience, Rulon, Engebritson and Reznicek are all proud of their extraordinary first year with RBHS. They enjoy their students, the faculty, the gratification of making a difference in their students’ lives and knowing they were successful with their first real career.
Teaching “was definitely the right choice for me. It’s one of those things when it just clicks and I love it,” Rulon said. “I get up every day, and I want to go to my job, and I want to do what I do, which is more than a lot of other people would say.”