Toler happy teaching sixth grade

When Kristen Toler was a young child, she saw “The Chicken Man” perform at Renfro Valley. His chicken impression would make anyone feel like they’re right there on the farm.

And Toler was amazed.

Her fascination grew into attempts to mimic the realistic chicken cluck, and one day, she nailed it.

Years later, her hidden talent proved surprisingly useful when she promised her students she’d show them her chicken impression if they behaved.

“The things we do,” Toler joked.

Toler, a Clark County native, teaches sixth-grade math and science classes at Baker Intermediate School.

“I just love those subjects,” Toler said. “Those were my strong areas as a student.”

Toler had moved away before her freshman year of high school to Harrogate, Tennessee.

“That’s big in my life,” Toler said. “…Things happen for a reason. And I’m glad I moved, and I’m glad I went to a new area and experienced new things…That was a big turning point in my life.”

Toler returned to Central Kentucky to attend the University of Kentucky for her bachelor’s degree and Morehead State University for her master’s in middle school education.

Toler started teaching in 2003 at the former Clark County Middle School and took a brief hiatus in 2008 after giving birth to her second daughter. She returned to teaching in 2016 at Baker.

“It was different,” Toler said. “I have two kids now. So just learning to juggle that and be a mom and be a teacher. But it comes back to you. It’s like riding a bike.”

This year will be eighth year teaching in total.

One of the most significant changes Toler has witnessed has been the change in technology.

“Students didn’t have cell phones with them in 2008 when I left,” Toler said. “But now everybody has them.”

Now, Toler said students often use technology as a learning tool in the classroom.

Toler said scheduling was also different from her start as a teacher in 2003 to now. She went from teaching about seven 45-minute classes to only three 90-minute classes.

“I like the 90 minutes,” Toler said. “You can get so much done.”

She said she enjoys watching the growth in her students from the beginning of the school year to the end.

Toler first realized she wanted to be a teacher in her second year of college.

“When I first started, I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do,” Toler said. “But by my second year of college, I went with teaching, and once I got into those classes that were more focused in the classroom, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Toler said her and her sister often joke about their career decisions because when the pair were younger, Toler’s older sister would play teacher and Toler would play the student.

“We laugh about it now because she’s in dental hygiene,” Toler said. “And I’m the teacher.”

And now, Toler can’t imagine what her life would be like had she not chosen this career.

While taking classes at UK, Toler said was drawn to teaching because she liked developing relationships with students — giving them a safe place, answering their endless questions and teaching them about fascinating subjects.

“I love when they’re excited about learning,” Toler said.

Toler said her students last year were particularly excited about science.

“They were so excited,” she said. “They knew we would be doing something with their hands or with an experiment… And that was exciting for me, for them to come in and be excited about my class.”

Toler said she chose to teach middle school because unlike many of her peers, she loved middle school. Toler said she also appreciates the independence of the middle school-age students; she enjoys telling them jokes and being silly with them. Toler even has a meme board in her classroom. Her current favorite on the board is her Beyonce meme: “If you wanted a grade, you shoulda put your name on it.”

As for subjects, Toler said one of her favorites to teach is fractions.

“I love fractions,” Toler said.

In sixth grade, students cover many areas in math and science such as fractions, number lines, factors, the order of operations, graphing, how to think like a scientist, astronomy, Earth science, geology and more.

In Toler’s classroom, her students will grow up to future doctors, business owners, nurses, social workers and more.

“Knowing that I’m going to be part of that on their educational journey to wherever that takes them, that’s exciting to me,” Toler said.

Some of Toler’s former students have already graduated high school and have gone on to pursue careers in various fields.

“When I see my students —  my older students — out in Winchester, and they come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I remember this. And I remember that,’ and just knowing that I made it memorable in the classroom, and that they still think about it,” Toler said. “That’s cool to be a part of that.”

Toler said she hopes all of her students remember she cared and tried her best to reach them.

“I want them to remember me fondly,” Toler said. “I want them to look back at their sixth-grade year with positive memories inside my classroom.”

Toler encourages her students to be the best version of themselves and to give it their all in every aspect of their life.

“Just give it your all and work hard,” she said. “If you keep that philosophy in life, then you will get far.”

When Toler was in school, she did a lot of bookwork. But as a teacher, her students rarely use textbooks. There are many different ways to present material now, she said.

“We hardly get out the textbooks,” Toler said. “Unless we need it for supplemental stuff.

We have so many PowerPoints that we can make and put cool pictures and where they can see the real world examples.”

Though, it can sometimes be challenging to attempt to reach every type of individual learner in the classroom.

“You have to figure out your students and see what they’re strong at,” Toler said. “And you have to figure out what works for them. I want to make sure that I reach all my students, not just some of them.”

Toler said she doesn’t stick to one particular teaching style but instead attempts to incorporate all methods to accommodate the various types of learners in her classroom. She lectures, assigns group work, individual work, uses real-world examples and practices hands-on learning.

Toler said she also wants to ensure her students are never afraid to ask questions.

“There are no dumb questions,” she said.

Starting today and for the rest of the school year, Toler said she’s focused on getting her students to where they need to be as well as sharpening her skills.

“I feel like I’m a new teacher every year because you’re always trying to improve on what you’ve done,” she said.

Though, she is not only a teacher but also a mentor, counselor and sometimes, a referee.

“We are a lot of things,” Toler said.

It can be overwhelming, especially for new teachers, but Toler said she advises new teachers not to let the stress bother them. It’s also helpful to have a supportive staff.

“Baker has some of the best staff,” Toler said. “They’re very supportive and are willing to help you no matter what.”

It’s also good to remember there are always 30 sets of eyes watching you as a teacher, Toler said, so it’s important not to react to stress negatively.

“That’s one thing about being a teacher — you have to be flexible,” she said. “You never know what your day is going to be like. There’s not a day that’s just like the day before. There’s always something different, always something that you didn’t expect, so you have to be ready for that in the best way that you can be.”

Outside of teaching, Toler said she enjoys spending time with her two daughters and husband of 17 years. Together, the family spends a lot of their time outdoors — camping, boating, razor riding and more.

It can be a bit bittersweet with summer ending, but Toler said she’s excited to start the school year today; her students will primarily be covering back-to-school procedures, policies and setting the tone for the year to come.

 “It’s a fresh start for everybody,” Toler said. “And that’s always exciting.”

Toler said she plans to keep teaching for as long she can, and doing so as a caring, funny and supportive teacher. She said she hopes to continuously improve her teaching skills and keep up-to-date with the latest technology and of course, memes.

“I’m proud that I’m a teacher,” she said. “It’s a noble profession.”

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email lashana.harney@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0015.

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