Kersten Osborn, a Soldotna High School graduate, and Michelle Burnett, a graduate of Kenai Central High School, are first-year teachers at Nikiski North Star Elementary School. Burnett teaches first grade and Osborn teaches a second- and third-grade class.
Photo by Will Morrow
You know you're in the right place, says first-year teacher Michelle Burnett, when you're excited to get to work at 7:30 in the morning, and you're still excited when you finally head home at 7 in the evening.
"It's been a blast actually. It's kind of fun coming to work, which is nice," Burnett said after her first two weeks as a full-time teacher.
Burnett and Kersten Osborn, both first-year teachers at Nikiski North Star Elementary School, have several things in common in addition to their enthusiasm for their new jobs. Both are graduates of central Kenai Peninsula high schools, and both are thrilled to have landed a job in the area where they grew up.
Osborn, a 1998 graduate of Soldotna High School, said she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher.
"I used to teach my dolls at home what I learned that day at school," said Osborn, adding that she also was influenced by her mother, Trudy Petersen, a retired teacher.
Osborn decided to stay in the community after finishing high school and completed most of her college coursework at Kenai Peninsula College, with a semester at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She also started a family, and after doing some substitute teaching and spending time at home with her newborn, decided it was time to start applying for a full-time position. Osborn said she's lucky to have been offered a position at Nikiski North Star, a building in which she already felt comfortable after student-teaching there.
"I already knew everybody that was nice," Osborn said.
Burnett said she's just as comfortable in the school, if not more so: she's teaching first grade in the same classroom in which she was a student teacher.
For Burnett, a 1995 Kenai Central High School graduate, a full-time teaching job has been a long time coming. After five years of substitute teaching with a few long-term assignments, she had her foot in the door, but was beginning to wonder if the door would ever open the rest of the way.
"I was working five days a week, so I'd be OK, but the door opened, the opportunity was there, and I was able to get my dream job," Burnett said.
Burnett said she didn't decide to become a teacher until she started college at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. When she started college she had her heart set on photography, but as a sophomore took an introduction to education course.
"I spent a lot of time (in a first-grade classroom), and I decided that's where I needed to be," Burnett said.
When she left for college, Burnett said she didn't picture herself settling down so close to home, but she said she changed her mind while in Fairbanks.
"I knew I wanted to raise a family here," Burnett said.
Both Burnett and Osborn said they've been putting in long hours learning the curriculums, getting their classrooms in order and familiarizing themselves with all the various standards and benchmarks. Burnett said she's excited to finally be using the notebooks of ideas she's had stored away while Osborne, who has a class of second- and third-graders, has found ways to make sure all her students are getting the attention they need.
"It's a challenge, but it's not as hard as I thought it would be," Osborn said. "I've figured out a slick way to meet every child's needs at their level. It's working out pretty well so far."
Both teachers have been able to bounce ideas off each other and have relied on the rest of the staff at Nikiski North Star for support and advice. Robin Thye is serving as a mentor for Burnett, and Judy Shields is doing the same for Osborn.
"I have an awesome team supporting me anytime I need any questions answered," Burnett said.
Both also have supportive families, making it easier for each to pursue their calling. Burnett's son Zach, 3, has his own seat for occasions when his visits Mom at school. Osborn said her 9-year-old stepson Austin has offered to help her grade math papers, while her 6-year-old, Alexis, and 15-month-old, Adam, helped decorate the classroom. Both Burnett's husband Trent and Osborn's husband Josh have been encouraging as well.
And two weeks into the school year, Osborn and Burnett already feel their work has been rewarding and the long hours they've been putting in have been worth it.
"I think the first day of school reaffirmed," said Osborn, "this is exactly what I should be doing with my life."
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