Ask Kaye Hensley what it’s like to teach kindergarten from the same classroom at the same school for 30 straight years, and she’ll lead you to a closet.
“I’ll show you what 30 years of teaching looks like,” she said recently to a pair of visitors. Inside the walk-in closet, teaching materials lined every wall, floor to ceiling, like an evidence room of instructional materials.
“This is what happens,” she said, smiling. “When I came here, it was empty.”
When she came to Franklin Elementary in 1983, it was another era for kindergarten. Kids attended half days. Teachers emphasized socializing. Students played, snacked and played some more. Today, those students are in their 30s, some with kindergartners of their own, but their children are staying all day and learning to read and write.
The one constant, at least at Franklin, is the infectiously enthusiastic Hensley, who could hardly contain herself last month as she waited for her students to arrive on the first day of school.
“They make my day, every day.” she said. “I love my job.”
It shows in her classroom. A billowing tree made of craft paper covers one corner wall with the names of her students printed on puffy red apples: Brandon, Freedom, Marco, Erin, Quinn, Wadu, Sandra and so on.
One day this fall students will arrive to find the leaves on their classroom tree have changed colors. By winter, the leaves will be scattered on the floor, replaced with green paper leaves come spring. Along the way Hensley will teach her students about the seasons of the year.
“I love my room,” she said.
She loves The Pit, a section of recessed flooring that forms a semi-circle where Hensley reads to her students each morning. On the first day of school she used the space to instruct kids how to sit without disrupting their neighbors and how to raise their hands to ask questions.
She took their photos, measured their height and asked each of them to draw a self-portrait. She’ll do the same on the last day of school, so her students can see how much they’ve grown.
“When they leave, it’s kind of heartbreaking,” she said. “But I know I’ll see them the next year.”