Rhinelander grad prepares to carry on family tradition
By Eileen Persike
Beginning of school jitters are not necessarily limited to students. In the Rhinelander School District next Tuesday, some fifteen new teachers will be standing in the front of a classroom – some for the first time since college graduation. One of those, however, is not new to Rhinelander schools; and her family members are not unfamiliar standing in front of a classroom full of students.
You could say Katy Koch has joined the family business.
Jon Koch, Katy’s father, a long-time elementary school teacher retired from the district in May, 2014. Brothers-in-law Alex Bontz and Joe Waksmonski are Hodag teachers and coaches. After working as a long-term sub last spring, Katy will join Alex at Northwoods Community Secondary School (NCES) in her own classroom.
“Joe is a P.E. teacher and is at the school two days a week. And I’m actually on the same team as my brother-in-law Alex,” Katy said. “It’s awesome though, I’m lucky enough to get along with my brothers-in-law.”
A 2008 Rhinelander High School grad, Koch didn’t really know what direction she wanted to take with her life when she enrolled at UW-Eau Claire that fall.
“I went for nursing and decided that wasn’t for me. I think I was always tossing around the idea of being a teacher, because of my dad,” she said. “I just realized after being in the nursing program for a little bit that this isn’t my thing. I went back and got my teaching degree, and it’s my thing.”
Teaching at NCES is Koch’s thing, too, saying it’s one of those places where she felt comfortable just walking through the door.
“It was a good experience over all, starting in mid-year. Everyone was so willing to help; I think to not be afraid of asking for help was really nice, and that made the transition from graduate to teacher a lot easier,” Koch recalled. “I didn’t have that fear of anything.”
No fear, no jitters; only excitement for the year ahead.
“Just to have my own group of kids, to meet all of them and their parents, and collaborate with the team and to just be part of that community is awesome,” she said. “So I am just anxious for the year to start.”
Koch’s class will consist of third, fourth and fifth graders. Students are broken into grade levels for the main subjects. The multi-age classroom is becoming more and more popular, and is part of what makes NCES unique.
“I think it cuts down on behavior issues, and the older students have the chance to be role models and mentors,” she said. “When else would you see a fifth grader working with a third grader on a project? The students also tend to hang out together on the playground. It’s cool to see those kids interacting with each other.”
As a recent UW- Stevens Point graduate said she received a good foundation from her college professors and student teaching experiences. Over the summer Koch attended Rhinelander School District’s Tech Fest and more recently new teacher training.
“I thought that I was really tech savvy, but after going to Tech Fest I couldn’t believe what is out there,” Koch laughed. “Everyone who spoke said, ‘don’t hesitate to call or email.’ It’s nice to know that I am getting into a work environment that is accepting and helpful.”
Couple that with lessons learned from her life-long role model.
“My dad’s always been one of those people who has a good attitude about everything, and that has kind of rubbed off on me,” according to Katy. “You know, go in with a positive attitude and be able to adapt and embrace change.”
As a fledgling teacher, this second-generation Rhinelander educator has dreams and goals of her own to fulfill, beginning Tuesday. Katy Koch, after all, has the family business to keep up.
“It’s really important to me to create an environment where kids love to learn. They probably already have that from their prior teachers, but keep up with that, do different things, be that person who can make a change in their lives for the better or just help them be better learners and strive for greatness in life.”