Veteran and newbie share rewards and challenges of the teaching profession

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Most educators will tell you they didn’t go into the profession for the money as it’s a well-known fact that teaching isn’t one of those careers that will make you wealthy.

It is, however, a job that attracts individuals seeking a different type of reward, one that can’t be measured by dollars.

Kerrie Douglas. Photo by Deborah Stone
“I went into teaching because it’s a profession where I believe you can make a difference,” says Kerrie Douglas, sixth grade teacher at East Ridge Elementary. “You can positively impact the lives of kids. And what’s wonderful about teaching that is rarely found in other professions is the immediate feedback you receive that lets you know if you’re getting through to your students. When one of them has that ‘aha’ moment, it is such an incredible feeling to realize that you have helped turn on that light bulb. There’s really no way to describe how powerful that experience is and that is really what motivates me as a teacher.”

Douglas has been an educator for a total of 41 years, with the last 20 spent at East Ridge. She has stayed in the profession all this time because of the joy she gets from working with kids and being present for their successes and achievements. She derives enormous energy from her students and takes pride in nurturing their minds and instilling in them a lifelong love of learning.

Her teaching style is hands-on and it is always driven by the needs of her students, both academically and socially.

“I want to see them as well-rounded people,” she explains. “I want to help develop their minds, as well as build their self-confidence and independence. It’s also very important to me that they are good citizens in the world. Respect is key and in my classroom. I always model respect with my students and I insist that they are respectful of others.”

Douglas didn’t set out to be a teacher initially. She was going to be a lawyer or an engineer.

“I’ve always loved math,” she comments, “and my father was an engineer.”

After her freshman year of college, however, she decided that she wasn’t really interested in either profession.

“I realized that I was a nurturer and these careers just didn’t suit me,” she adds. “Then I sat in on my brother’s class. He was a high school teacher. It only took once and I was hooked. I loved it!”

Though she taught middle school for a few years, Douglas was eventually drawn to the elementary level because she saw that she had the ability to make a greater impact. She explains that in middle school, you have less time to get to know the students because they’re always switching classes. At East Ridge, sixth grade became her niche. “Sixth graders are at a neat stage in life,” she notes. “They’re excited about learning and they’re independent, yet they still like the attachment to their teacher. They have a sense of humor, so you can really have fun with them.”

Douglas has seen many changes in education over the years. One of the greatest improvements she identifies is the collaborative aspect of teaching that is now the mainstay in most schools. Rather than teaching in isolation, as teachers did years ago, today, educators share curriculum and ideas with one another in an open environment.

“It’s wonderful to work together with other teachers,” comments Douglas. “We all learn from each other, which in turn benefits our students. We also give each other lots of support and encouragement.”

Another major change that has occurred in education is the focus on standards, which Douglas feels is important in order to ensure that all students get the education they need and deserve.

With the standards, however, teachers are more test-driven and have less options regarding curriculum. They’re also under pressure when it comes to their students’ performance.

“One of the biggest challenges with all the changes in education is the lack of time that teachers have to do everything that’s required of them,” explains Douglas. “Because of this, we are less able to incorporate the activities and projects we used to do with our students to supplement and enrich learning. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.” She adds, “And then there’s the whole funding issue, which is affecting education across the nation. Cuts in education spending make it increasingly more challenging to provide quality education for all kids.”

A veteran teacher, Douglas is often called upon to be a mentor to first year teachers in the district. She notes the energy and enthusiasm that newbies bring to the profession and the fresh outlooks they have on education.

She worries, however, that they will burn out with the stresses of the job, which she feels are on the rise.

As for advice to the newcomers, she says, “Think of your students first. What’s best for them should always drive your actions. And collaborate with others as much as you can because it will save you time if you can help each other.”

She adds, “And above all, maintain a sense of humor. That’s really important when it comes to keeping your sanity!”

Tim Freeburg. Photo by Deborah Stone.
On the other side of the experience spectrum is Tim Freeburg, a first year math teacher working at Timbercrest Junior High. Though he always had a feeling he wanted to be a teacher, the pay initially deterred him and he ended up with jobs in investments and insurance sales.

“I quickly found myself missing the coaching I had done previously and decided to get back into working with the younger population,” explains Freeburg. “I decided I would volunteer in the high school and junior high to see if I really enjoyed the experience. After a couple weeks of observations and volunteer work, I applied to a teaching program and have loved every experience since.”

The local man, who was a 2003 Bothell High graduate, got an economics degree from Washington State University and his post B.A. teaching certificate from Central Washington University.

Although he student taught for three months and volunteered in schools as part of his training, Freeburg admits that there’s no substitute for the real thing when it comes to preparing someone to teach.

“Being taught how to teach is a funny thing,” he says. “My supervisors said the whole way through that you will learn strategies to help, but until you teach, you won’t know how to teach. And they were right.” He adds, “I was lucky though because I have a strong coaching background, which helped me prepare for my job. Coaching is very similar to teaching because the toughest part about coaching or teaching is how to connect and motivate kids. If you can make kids work hard for you on the field, you can get them to do the same in the classroom.”

Although there are many teachers who shy away from the junior high age group, Freeburg is not one of them. He truly enjoys this level because he views it as a very moldable developmental stage. It’s where, he claims, kids form strong opinions about mathematics that stay with them for the rest of their lives.

“If you build a solid foundation, experience success and practice in an environment where you can make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, math is no longer a scary thing. And by having an understanding of mathematics, you will have a higher chance of succeeding later in life. Whether it’s entry college courses, running a small business someday or just having the ability to critically problem solve day-to-day issues, you will be better prepared because of math.”

Freeburg tries to bring a lot of energy to his classroom to match the energy of his students and makes it a point to maintain a positive environment. He stresses effort above all and like Douglas, it brings him tremendous satisfaction in being a part of those “light bulb” moments. In describing his teaching style, Freeburg notes that he brings a coaching mentality to his classroom. He sets clear expectations and utilizes daily and weekly routines for consistency.

He adds, “The students know where to find information and can expect what will happen next. We work as a team and depend on one another. I encourage them to learn from each other as much if not more than they learn from me.” He adds, “I teach beyond the math like I would in sports. That means if it connects to a larger context in life and can help us become better people in life, we will address it and encourage the right behavior.”

As a first year teacher, Freeburg faces a number of challenges. The issue of time, as Douglas noted, is always a prevalent problem. Freeburg is trying to build his website, video blog and interactive flipcharts from scratch and although he has support regarding content and tips on how to teach, it still takes much time to shape his materials as his own. The other challenge is in regards to differentiating instruction.

“I have a wide spread of abilities in each of my classes,” he explains. “Some kids get it and can teach themselves with minimal support while others need lots of individual attention and work at a slower rate. To balance daily lessons which accommodate both learners is an ongoing challenge, but it’s very rewarding when the struggling students experience success and when the accelerated students push their knowledge to the max and seek out additional learning opportunities.”

The Northshore School District’s mentor program for first year teachers is a godsend to Freeburg.

It has provided him with numerous resources and training sessions, allowed him opportunities to bounce his ideas off veteran teachers and let him have the chance to observe other teachers in action both inside and outside of his building.

“I feel like the support around me cares about me developing and succeeding,” says Freeburg. “This in turn has helped motivate me to do the same for our students. It’s important for them to know I care.”

Timbercrest Junior High dancer plays Puss n’ Boots in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’

  • Written by Woodinville Weekly Staff

Elizabeth Kanning
Elizabeth Kanning. Photos by Scott Moore
Nothing says “Sweet Sixteen” better than Ballet Bellevue’s 16th anniversary season opener, “The Sleeping Beauty.”

First produced by Ballet Bellevue in February 1996, this beloved fairy tale ballet has over the years become a signature piece for Bellevue’s own professional chamber ballet company.

Rising star of Ballet Bellevue School and Timbercrest Junior High student, Elizabeth Kanning will perform with the company in the corps, as well as in the role of Puss n’ Boots in the upcoming performance of “The Sleeping Beauty.”

Kanning, who is in the Freshman Academy at Woodinville High School, attends classes at the Ballet Bellevue School five days a week and rehearses sometimes six days a week.

“It can be tiring, especially on nights when I have a lot of homework, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said Kanning.

She has danced previously with Ballet Bellevue in “The Nutcracker” and “The Snowman.”

“The Sleeping Beauty,” accompanied by live orchestra, will be performed Dec 28 at 7 p.m. and Dec 29 at 2 and 7 p.m. at The Theatre at Meydenbauer Center in downtown Bellevue.

“The Sleeping Beauty” is a classic story of love and adventure that appeals to all audiences, with lavish costumes and sets, amusing characters and a beautiful score performed live by the Ballet Bellevue orchestra and conducted by Barney Blough. Many of the original costumes will be worn for this 16th anniversary production.

The ballet has always been an audience favorite, but it is also a technically challenging work for the dancers.

“The Sleeping Beauty,” based on the 1697 Charles Perrault fairytale, tells the story of a beautiful princess who is cursed by an evil fairy and doomed to sleep for 100 years - only to be awakened by the kiss of the handsome prince who loves her.

Elizabeth Kanning2Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty composition is often regarded as his finest ballet score.

The Ballet Bellevue production creates a whimsical experience for the entire family.

For information, visit ( For tickets, call (425) 455-1345 or Brown Paper Tickets 1-800-838-3006 (

Patron center seating is $55; adult tickets are $40, student/senior admission is $25.

Groups of 10 or more receive 20 percent discount.

Exhibit features those affected by disaster, conflict, poverty

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Real Life Exhibit2
This tent shows the living conditions of the survivors, who must sleep on concrete with as many as 10 to a shelter. Courtesy photo.
Medical Teams International, a Christian global health organization dedicated to delivering medical and dental care and humanitarian aid to people in need, has been responding to disasters in the U.S. and around the world since its inception in 1979.

Last year alone, it helped more than 2.1 million people in 72 countries, sending teams of medical professionals and supplies to areas where there have been civil wars, drought, famine, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.

Last fall, the Redmond satellite office of the organization opened a free, walk-through, multi-sensory exhibit that allows the public to experience the realities for children affected by disaster, conflict and poverty.

The exhibit, REAL.LIFE, presents six stories that take visitors to various zones around the globe where tragedy has struck and where Medical Teams International has stepped in to provide relief, recovery and development efforts.

In Haiti, the focus is on a 7.0 earthquake that occurred in 2010 and killed 100,000 people, while injuring 300,000 more, leaving millions homeless.

A large blown-up photo of a Haitian street spreads across one wall, showing demolished buildings and piles of rubble.

Nearby is a tent showing the living conditions of the survivors, who must sleep on concrete with as many as 10 to a shelter.

A mound of clothes, a pail and a pitcher are all that remain of the inhabitants’ possessions. The realities of life in a tent camp are made even more visceral via live video footage.

Drawings by children describing their experiences on the day of the earthquake hang on a wall, along with subsequent happy drawings that were done later after Medical Teams International trauma counselors worked with the kids.

In another room, visitors learn of the 9.0 earthquake that caused a massive tsunami in the Indian Ocean back in 2004, killing 230,000 people and a similar one more recently in Japan that left 20,000 dead or missing.

The power of water and its destructive forces are graphically noted and for a reality check, visitors can stand beneath a picture of a massive 23-foot wave.

It pales in comparison to the 75 to 90 feet high waves that occurred in Japan’s tsunami.

Most poignant are the drawings and words of the children who express the fears and horrors they experienced. In one picture, a child is drawn without a face or eyes because she does not want to see what’s happening in front of her.

Accompanying the drawing are the words, “I wish I could close my eyes forever.”

In Mexico, the issue is abject poverty and ill-health. Garbage landfills become homes for families who move into them to scavenge items in order to survive.

Visitors can step into a simulated garbage dump, while watching video images taken at a real landfill in Mexico, where parents are shown sorting items as their children play nearby in the trash.

As visitors move into the next room, they are assaulted by horrific images of burned Moldovan children who lie on makeshift beds of window screens to let the air circulate to their burns. An audio system projects their cries of pain due to the shortage of medicine.

Each year, hundreds of children are severely burned in this country.

They accidentally fall against the wood stoves and open fires that can be found in the living and sleeping areas of many of the homes. Moldova, which is the second poorest country in Europe, has a lack of medical facilities and those that exist are sorely in need of up-to-date equipment and supplies.

Medical Teams International noted the need and stepped in, transforming one of the burn units where these children were housed into a clean, modern surgical facility.

In another room, the problem of HIV/AIDS is presented in context using the country of Mozambique as an example.

Visitors learn that the disease has killed more than 30 million, four times the number of people in Washington.

One in four inhabitants lives with HIV/AIDS and one in 10 babies dies before the age of one.

A wall of paper dolls represents the harsh facts, showing that every day 1,000 infants are infected with HIV.

In response to the crisis, Medical Teams International has helped to establish mobile clinics and supply home-health kits, as well as anti-retroviral meds.

The final exhibit area deals with the trauma that refugees experience when they are displaced from their homeland.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a brutal civil war has been raging among rebel groups who are fighting over the control of the country’s mines.

Nearly 50,000,000 people have been affected by the conflict.

Over five million have died and one million have been displaced, many who have fled to Uganda. These refugees are dealing with loss, injury, poverty and often illness, specifically malaria, which if untreated, can lead to death.

A cut-out cardboard figure named Ben lies on a cot. Ben has malaria with a fever of 105 degrees and convulsions. He will be one of the lucky ones who survive, however, because he is getting anti-malaria drugs. Information provided emphasizes that malaria is a preventable disease and that nets save lives.

The final room of the exhibit is the marketplace, where visitors learn what they can do to help those in need.

Suggestions are given at various levels, ranging from hosting fundraisers to volunteering on a Medical Teams International team.

“The idea for this exhibit is to give people an understanding of the needs that exist in different parts of the world,” explains exhibit coordinator Shauna Smith. “We want visitors to experience not only the real need, but also the real hope that Medical Teams International provides. They see the before and after scenes of places that have been transformed by the organization’s volunteers and they realize that these situations are not hopeless.”

She adds, “The goal is to plant a seed through this awareness that encourages people to take some kind of action, big or small. Each person has the ability to make a difference.”

Smith notes that nearly 800 people have visited the exhibit since it opened in September, including local church, school and corporate groups.

She says that everyone is moved by what they see, as the exhibit has the ability to touch people and affect them in powerful ways.

“It’s an eye-opener,” comments Smith. “The experience introduces people to the needs that exist in the world in a way that makes them very real and urgent. It sparks a lot of meaningful discussion within groups.” She adds, “Many teachers and youth group leaders have told me that they think the exhibit is a great way to develop compassion in kids. They also say that the kids leave with the understanding that even though they’re young, they can still do something to help. We show them that if they skip five sodas, for example, they can use that money to buy a bed net, which will save someone’s life.

“When they see how easy it is to get involved, it inspires them and makes them more motivated to act.”

REAL.LIFE Exhibit is available to individuals and groups by appointment Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. For information or to schedule a tour of the exhibit, visit: or call (425) 454-8326.

These students serve their community

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Wellington students Hailey Ahlstrom, Lily Pell, Ellie Mann, Lauren Pulsipher, Madison Van Avery and Emma Mann work as a team to assemble Christmas ornaments for Friends of Youth shelters. Photo by Deborah Stone.
Meggin Mann and her husband have five children and like many families, they’re constantly on the go doing a variety of kid-centered activities.

Something was missing, though, in their busy lives.

“There was just this piece that wasn’t there,” explains Mann. “We really weren’t involved in any service type projects in the community and I felt the need to show my kids the importance of giving back and how to help others that are less fortunate.”

The Woodinville mom wanted to see if other parents would be interested in finding activities that their kids could do to develop this type of awareness.

She had a sense that the Wellington Elementary community would be supportive of her idea and soon got approval through the PTA to offer a service-oriented club.

The program, Helping Hands, is now in its second year and going strong with an average of 150 to 175 kids, who meet monthly to work on specific projects.

“Our mission,” explains Mann, “is to provide opportunities for Wellington students to become more conscious of the needs of others and to serve our community in positive ways. Simply put, we hope to care for and share with those in need in our local community.”

The club is open to all Wellington students, and their parents are also invited to come and assist Mann.

“It’s a great opportunity for families to participate together,” she adds. “We also get several older kids from the junior high and high school to help us and in return they get credit for service hours.”

In October, the club kicked off the year by making hundreds of cards and masks for patients at Children’s Hospital in Seattle, who had to spend Halloween in a hospital room instead of at parties or out trick-or-treating.

For November, the club’s theme was “Service for Soldiers” and the group created cards and collected Halloween candy for the servicemen and women involved in Operation Iraq-Afghanistan.

This month’s theme was “Winter Warmth” and the club partnered with Friends of Youth to make Christmas decorations and ornaments, and assemble care packages for various youth and family shelters in the area.

“We identify populations that are in need of assistance, such as the homeless, elderly and ill children, and then reach out to different organizations that serve these populations,” says Mann.

“I want to educate kids and their families about these organizations, to bring awareness of what’s being done locally, and then if they want to help these places on their own, at least they’ll know where to start.”

The local woman has a committee of eight women who help her gather and prepare the materials for the projects.

Wellington’s P.T.A. helps with some of the funding and last year the Northshore Schools Foundation gave the club a $900 grant to buy basic supplies.

Mann adds that parents have also been very generous with donations, as well as some local businesses including Red Robin, Rite Aid and Home Depot.

“Helping Hands allows kids to do something positive for others,” says Caroline Ahlstrom, volunteer coordinator for the club. “Sometimes it’s hard to find things to do on your own with your kids, but with the club, it’s easy and convenient, and the projects are always a lot of fun for everyone.”

Mann notes that choosing the appropriate activities for the various developmental levels can be challenging.

She explains that it’s important to select projects that the children can do and that can also be appreciated by the target populations.

She and her committee set up stations for the kids to rotate through and identify specific tables that are geared toward the individual grade levels.

At each meeting, Mann reports back to the children about the responses she receives from the recipients. She reads letters of thanks and shares the comments of gratitude with the group.

“They love hearing from the organizations,” she says. “They realize that although they are children, they still have the ability to make a difference in the lives of those in need.”

Fifth grader Lily Pell was involved in the club last year and was eager to join again this year.

“I love arts and crafts and it’s lots of fun to make the different projects,” she comments.

“It makes me feel good to help others and I like hearing that the people are happy to get the stuff we make for them.”

Lily’s favorite activity was making Christmas wreaths last year for House of Hope.

Nathan Ahlstrom, 10, is also in his second year with the club and looks forward to the monthly meetings and projects. He says, “I like helping people who don’t have enough food and shelter. I think it’s important for every kid to help out once in a while and do a good thing for a good cause.”

At December’s meeting, representatives from Friends of Youth spoke to the members of Helping Hands to explain their work and the populations they serve.

Outreach coordinator Melissa King told the group that the organization relies on outside groups like Helping Hands for support and donations. She told the kids that clubs like theirs are an integral part of the agency’s ability to continue to serve homeless youth. “Youth helping youth,” she adds. “That’s really special.”

Experience the freedom of flight at iFLY

  • Written by Deborah Stone
iFLYGirlBoyI’m all about giving experience-oriented gifts at the holidays. Whether it’s ski lessons, cooking classes, private wine tastings, or a raft trip, I seek potential memory-making activities for my recipients. This year, the adventure lovers and adrenaline junkies in my life are all going to get iFLY Seattle gift certificates. I want them to experience the exhilaration and thrills of human flight. Simply put, iFLY is not a ride or a simulator. It’s a vertical wind tunnel that moves air up within a column, creating an indoor skydiving experience. State-of-the-art technology produces a wall-to-wall airflow that is smooth and controlled.

Originally created for use by professional skydivers and the military, the system is now also designed for the general public to experience the sport of body flight. Children as young as three years of age and up can fly and no previous experience is necessary. It’s a unique opportunity to find out what the world of high adventure skydiving is like without ever having to pack a parachute, pull a ripcord or jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

“It’s taken off like wildfire,” says Lysa Adams, co-owner of iFLY Seattle with her husband Bill. “People of all ages just love it and once they try it, they’re usually hooked on the experience and come back for more.”

Both Lysa and Bill are avid skydivers with a lifelong passion for the sport. They were motivated to open iFLY Seattle after visiting another facility created by parent company SkyVenture.

“The commercial application potential is what drew us,” explains Adams. “We thought it was really unique to be able to offer the public this type of experience, in addition to being a training site for professional skydivers. iFLY Seattle boasts the fastest wind tunnel in the world, reaching a speed of 230 mph, and it also has the only 14 foot recirculating tunnel among all the SkyVenture facilities this side of the Mississippi. “And we are the first to have two airlock chambers,” adds Adams. “Plus, we have the first all-glass chamber.”

Adams says that she gets up to 300 flyers on a weekend day and over 600 spectators. Kids between the ages of six and 13 make up the largest demographic. “We see a lot of moms and pops with their kids,” she comments. “The whole family comes and the kids recognize right away that it’s a sport we offer, not an amusement ride. We are an actual body flight school where we teach people to progress in their skills.”

There are four distinct levels of flight progression, which correspond to body positions: on the belly, on the back, sitting and the most advanced, head down. Everyone progresses at their own rate.

“Progression rate really depends on the type of experience you have with your body,” explains Adams. “Those who have done a lot of sports or who have a real sense of their body will most likely progress at a faster rate than someone who’s less active.”

Beginners fly one at a time and there’s always a certified instructor in the chamber to assist in the process. Beforehand, however, participants must take a brief class to learn what to expect during their experience. At this time, the instructor goes over the hand signals he/she will use in the chamber, as that is the sole form of communication. The next step involves getting the proper attire – jumpsuit, earplugs, goggles and a helmet. “The most important direction the instructor will give you is to relax,” says Adams. “When you relax, you are able to fly stable. Once that happens, you can apply turns via your body. Your arms are wings and your legs are the rotors. You learn that any movement you make has an immediate reaction.”

Adams notes that kids fly the best because they take instruction well. Females also make good flyers for the same reason.  For Adams, the most rewarding part of her job is watching the “aha” moment occur in first time flyers. “You can see it in their bodies,” she explains. “They just get it and know to relax and float on the wind. And when they do, they’ll have this huge smile on their face.”

She’s right. I was grinning ear-to-ear during my session and didn’t want it to end. Initially, I was a bit nervous and apprehensive, but once I got accustomed to the sensation of my body moving with the airflow, I was able to relax and “go with the flow!”

I reveled in the thrills and excitement that came from the freedom of flight and I wanted to share my adventure with everyone. It’s an experience, however, that defies description no matter what words you choose. It’s just something you have to do.

iFLY Seattle is located in Tukwila, adjacent to the Westfield Southcenter Mall: (206) 244-4359 or