PAOLA — Paola High School English teacher Heather Kauk loves watching her students get excited about reading.
It’s a feeling she can relate to, as she’s always been enamoured with books, and she’s always wanted to be a teacher. As a young girl, Kauk can remember playing teacher at the home of her aunt and uncle.
“I had the best pretend classroom in their basement,” she said.
Now, Kauk has a real classroom to lead, and she is in her third year at PHS.
She enjoys teaching classics such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Romeo and Juliet,” but she admits she never knows which book is going to be a hit from class to class.
“Last year’s juniors really enjoyed ‘The Glass Castle,’” Kauk said. “When kids like it, it’s so much more fun.”
Capturing the attention of young high school students isn’t always easy, though, so Kauk is always looking for ways to get her students excited, whether it’s watching scenes from a movie or acting out scenes from Shakespeare.
“It’s a little bit like entertaining,” she said.
Kauk’s teaching style has captured the attention of her colleagues, and they recently nominated her for Paola USD 368’s Secondary Teacher of the Year Award. Kauk was selected as the winner, and she was surprised with the honor during a presentation March 8.
“It means a lot, especially since teachers nominate each other,” Kauk said. “This English department is great. We love to collaborate.”
The English department at PHS is undergoing a curriculum overhaul, and Kauk is excited about students having even more opportunities to become engaged. Instead of the entire class reading one book, Kauk said students will have more freedom to select their own reading material from topics such as mystery, suspense, fiction and memoirs.
One thing that won’t change is Kauk’s passion for teaching high school students.
“They’re my people,” she said. “I belong in a high school. I feel like I’m home.”
Kauk will now join Paola’s elementary winner Paula Gage at the regional Teacher of the Year banquet in September, with the possibility of moving on to the state banquet.
The two winners are familiar with each other, as they have had each other’s children in their classes.