Teaching, like perhaps no other modern profession, embodies the selfsame virtues as motherhood.
There is, in teaching, an emphasis on learning and installing in students the traits of rectitude, good manners, diligence. But all of those stem from an undeniable desire to see a child brought up right, to honorable personhood, and to do so with faith, hope, kindness and the greatest of all these: love.
The process and institution of education is, in the eyes of the law, acting in loco parentis — in the stead of a parent. Sift through the process and the institution and you come very quickly to the person who does occupy that parental, that motherly, space. It’s a teacher.
In preparation for this Mother’s Day, The Bellevue Leader sat down with mothers in the teaching profession from the Bellevue Public Schools and their children, who also entered the profession in the district. What we heard were amazing tales of endurance and inspiration, of what it means to have a calling.
These are their stories.
Mother knows best
First-year Peter Sarpy Elementary teacher Maggie Kingsley will sometimes find herself before her kindergarten classroom saying something weighty with untold import for her class.
Other times, she’ll just be trying to corral the masses.
But inevitably, some message to the class will slip out and give her a moment’s pause.
“I’ll say, ‘I just sounded like my mom right there,’” Maggie said with a laugh. “And at first, I’ll feel a little weird about that. But I realize that I did sound like her. That’s not a bad thing at all.”
And how could it be?
When your mother is a 26-year veteran of the same district in which you teach, when she was a teacher at the very elementary school you attended, when she earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2012, the same year you took your teaching certificate, there’s a lot of wisdom behind those moments sounding like Mom.
“It’s a wonderful bond to share,” said Kelly Kingsley, Maggie’s mother, who has indeed been teaching in Wake Robin Elementary’s third-grade classrooms for 26 years. “It’s something I hope I’ve been able to share with her is my excitement for teaching and what it means to be a teacher. I see Maggie and the passion she has for this work and for children and I know, this is what she was meant to do. It’s one of those proudest moments you’ll ever have as a mother.”
Maggie was 4 when she knew she wanted to be a teacher.
She read aloud to her stuffed animals and practiced the art of showing off the pictures in her books, teacher-style — wide open and tracking on a 180-degree vacillation so everyone could see.
She put up a white board and scribbled down lessons. All the books from her childhood bear the marks of her red correcting pen.
“At 4, it was more of just babble and jibberish I’d get down, but it all made sense to me,” Maggie said. “I don’t think I thought of much else. I wanted to be a teacher.”
Role-playing and daydreaming aside, just about every night since then, Maggie was able to see the realities of the profession in action. Her mother would come home with stories from her classroom at Wake Robin.
Those conversations extended into Maggie’s career as a student at Wake Robin, and through high school and college and student teaching and now, to her first job at Peter Sarpy.
“It’s been awesome,” Maggie said. “To always have that someone there to talk to every day. My friends had her as a teacher. I got to be in her classroom for summer school. Now, I get to talk to her about different things related to school, to bounce ideas around.”
Maggie and her mother have also forged an intimate bond over their shared work and the students who, by and by, also become part of their family.
“I love that her students think she’s the president or the ruler of the world,” Kelly said. “My husband calls us rock stars because if we go to the store or to a restaurant and a student or a former student is there, they always come up to us. Even as the years go by, you hold onto the kids. They are family. They’re always yours. They always seem to stay 8 or 9, though, so sometimes it’s hard to see them as adults. But you love to see them and hear about all they’ve accomplished.”
To have her own daughter sharing in that feeling is something Kelly Kingsley regards as a major accomplishment in her career. And not just one daughter, but two. Kelly’s younger daughter, Molly, is a sophomore at Wayne State College with designs on becoming an art educator.
“I’m just thrilled that, as a mom and a teacher, I have been able to see the profession passed on,” she said. “When she got hired, I was almost in tears, shouting, ‘She got hired at Peter Sarpy!’”
It’s another one of those stories Maggie loves to hear, too.
And after a year with BPS, she’ll be back.
“Oh, I’m coming back,” she said. “This has been a great year.”
The family that learns together
Vanessa Wheeler’s career in education didn’t really take off until she already had a few little ones of her own in school.
For years, she served as a paraprofessional as she worked toward a degree and teaching certificate, making strides little by little as she was jostled around the nation while her late husband, Jim, received different postings in his military career.
But both her parents had been educators and Wheeler, deep down, always knew that it was a path she would pursue someday, too.
“It was just one of those things,” said Wheeler, who has been teaching fifth-grade at Twin Ridge Elementary for 25 years. “You know when you know. When I first started thinking about teaching, I had always had a love for English and drama and thought that might be the direction I’d go. But when I started as a para, I loved working with the little ones and that’s where I decided to go.”
As it turns out, Wheeler left teaching the older students to her daughter, Kelly McVey, who, for nine years, has been a social studies teacher at her alma mater, Bellevue West High School.
It was when McVey was in fifth-grade herself that Wheeler began her career at Twin Ridge. McVey’s own teaching career has its roots there, too.
“I remember in fifth-grade, that was a year I had a really phenomenal teacher,” she said. “My mom was just entering the profession and that was happening in school for me and I started to think: I might really want to do this.”
Though they teach different grades and in different settings, there’s still a common conversation they share, both as mom and daughter and educator to educator.
“I think of her as an expert,” McVey said of her mother. “To always know someone who can answer your questions is amazing. I always call her and ask, ‘What would you do in this situation?’ or ‘Is this OK, Mom? Is this right?’ It’s nice to have somebody who understands.”
The mother-daughter team sees their roles as elementary and high school teacher as guiding students through equally important formative days in their respective classrooms.
At the elementary level, Wheeler said she still has very family-like interactions with her students while she instructs them not only in reading, math and spelling, but some of life’s more intrinsic lessons.
“Earlier in my career, the students would call me ‘Mom,’” she said, laughing. “They’d get embarrassed, but I’d say, ‘No, it’s OK.’ Because we are kind of like Mom. Now, I get called ‘Grandma’ once in a while. That’s OK, too.”
Having that familiar role and imparting to students the lessons in the school of life are all part of the profession.
“I’ve had them say, ‘You guys tell the same stories, but they’re different,’” McVey said. “It’s all a matter of perspective. You have to make that connection with the kids. By high school, they’ve learned the lessons. Now, it’s time to lead by example. You have to show them the benefit to being good citizens, you have to be honest with them and show them. I’m OK with showing my students the limits I have. I try to reflect on what I do in front of them. As teenagers, they’ve been told, told, told what to do. But if you model the expectation, that’s important for them to see.”
And when the lessons are all learned for any given school year and it’s time to give a student up to the next grade or to college or into what we’ve come to call “the real world,” both McVey and Wheeler go back to that feeling of family.
After all, it’s what Wheeler had to do when her own daughter grew up before her eyes. But she’s also now been blessed enough to see McVey return to follow her passions.
“You can’t really learn all the other stuff unless we have that community feeling,” Wheeler said. “I tell all my classes that at the beginning of the year. We are a family. We’re going to get mad at each other, we’re going to laugh together, we’re going to have fun together. We’re going to experience all those things that families go through. But at the end of the day, this is a safe place where we can do all those things. It’s what any parent would want for their own child.”