Kristen D. Bruce, M.Ed.
The Path of Passion: From teacher to educator to advocate
Kristen D. Bruce, M.Ed.
When I first started teaching, I was 23 years old, fresh out of college, expecting my first child, and completely clueless as to what it meant to be an educator. December 1999, I walked into my first classroom. It felt as if my time had finally come. No longer was I the student. I was on the cusp of a new life with a new family and a new career in a new year, a new century, and a new millennium. It was such an auspicious time. I was ready to “change the world, one child at a time”. In truth, however, it was they who changed me, one piece at a time.
At first, I was a teacher. I was the captain of my ship. After all, I knew best. Right? I had the college degree. I was trained for this. Well, yes, but I wasn\’t getting the results I wanted. I wasn\’t connecting with the students. I expected that all of my students would be little sponges and soak up all of the wonderful knowledge that I so graciously imparted upon them. I mean, that is exactly what I did as a student. It was then that I truly understood my mistake: I had neglected the most important piece of any lesson – the student. So, instead of standing apart from my students as some magnanimous monolith in the front of the classroom who simply spoke at them, I began to listen. I learned about their interests. I incorporated those interests into my lessons. I celebrated their successes, and I mourned their failures. We struggled together, and we supported each other. This is when I became a true educator. No longer did I teach English to my students. As one of my former students so eloquently stated, “we do this learning thing together.”
Fast forward to 2018. It started out as just another year: new group of students, new relationships, new challenges. We hit the ground running from day one and never looked back. Very quickly, though, my “just another year” became an adventure that I refer to as “Expedition LaStoy”. First, I was named Teacher of the Year for Pickering High School. A couple months later, Vernon Parish High School Teacher of the Year. A few months later, Louisiana State Teacher of the Year Semi-finalist. And, a few months later, Louisiana State Teacher of the Year Finalist. It was a whirlwind of applications, interviews, meetings, socials, conference calls, mentoring sessions, photo shoots, and amazing people who have become my family. This country girl from the “Home of Fort Polk” and the “Gateway to Toledo Bend” actually got to walk down a red carpet. It was a life-changing series of events that was one of the most difficult and most rewarding things I have ever experienced.
In the midst of the pomp and circumstance, all of the finalists were charged with finding their passion, the one need that we recognize within the educational system and that we would commit to change. In the words of Spencer Kiper, the 2019 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year, “find your do something!” In that moment, I became an advocate. I became an outspoken, unwavering, and diligent supporter of every student in my school, in my district, in my state. It was also in that moment that I discovered my true passion, and #InformedChoices was born.
Under this program, students will receive guidance in choosing the appropriate diploma pathway. Through structured activities, interest inventories, career planning, internships, one-to-one mentoring, etc., students will make informed decisions about their future career paths and the best colleges or technical schools to help them reach their goals. At this time, students on the college readiness pathway have the opportunity to graduate from high school with an associate’s degree and a massive head start on their career path. However, students on the Jump Start pathway have no such initiative. Through this program, I hope to form partnerships with technical schools to offer coursework to high school students and affording them the opportunities to earn certificates that make them job-ready upon graduation. It is time that we give all of our students a true purpose for their education and a direction for their future. Not every student is “cut out” for college. We, as teachers, educators, and advocates need to clear the path for every student, every day, no matter the path they choose. That is my passion, and that is my promise. Every child, Every day, Whatever it takes!!