Kathleen Kanu-Thopmson, 2015-2017 Michigan Fellow
Fourth Grade Teacher
What brought you to work in education?
Education is a second career for me. I initially graduated and worked for 8 years in business. Although I enjoyed all the interactions that are associated with the business world, I ventured out to become a teacher. The impetus of this decision was the birth of a son. My son experienced reading difficulties in his early grades. After continual discussion and cajoling on my part of his urban classroom teachers, they continued to insist there was not a significant problem with his reading. Thankfully my family had the financial ability to move to another district, where he was tested to be 2 years behind in reading. It was this experience that drew me to teaching. I understood the concerns parents may have, and the limits that the teaching system could present. So teaching here I came! My goal was to become part of the solution.
Tell us about something that you have done in education that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community?
After working in an urban district for 3 years, I was chosen to be part of the Reading First grant in the State of Michigan. It was through these years that my instructional content grew 10 fold. Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to learn from experts in the field of reading and dyslexia. The learning I received was then shared with the teaching team I worked with. This shared learning help provide the necessary foundational skills to the K-3 teachers I worked with.
After having completed this portion of my career, I then returned to the classroom. Yet my learning never ceased. In the year 2008 I became a fellow the the Lake Michigan Writing Project, part of the National Writing Project. Although my central role was in the classroom, I was able to continue my knowledge sharing around the topic of writing. It was from this experience that I appreciated the ability of the written word to inform and possible persuade others to learn about issues important to the children and teachers in my world.
After growing with experience, I received the opportunity to become a fellow with Michigan Educator's Voice - America Achieves. The year with these colleagues allowed me to expand the written word through social media, blogs, and letters to policy makers. From my work with policy, I have been informing my teaching colleagues about issues that affect our profession. Strategies for following policy through the legislative process and strategies to address phone calls have been shared and practiced. My proudest moment was when I heard colleagues talking about a bill, and their conversation with their legislature.
As my career continues to blossom, I have continued to participate in growth opportunities...Instructional Rounds facilitating from Harvard, participating in the presentation for with Learning Forward to further teacher's voice in their career, and most recently an opportunity to participate in our state's Governor Education Summit all part of my work with Teacher's Champions. These past two decades have been tremendously challenging! I look forward to what more will come my way as I try to influence positive changes in education.
What’s your favorite part about being an America Achieves Fellow?
Several months ago, we had a chance to talk and interview a fellow cohort member. I truly appreciated the opportunity to talk about issues facing them in their districts. What I most appreciate about my work with America Achieves is the chance to discuss educational policy with people outside our realm.
If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?
It is essential that educators are brought into the discussion about policy decisions that affect children. We must advocate for the those who cannot advocate for themselves. Equity, not just equality, must be the focus of our decisions.
What’s the best thing a student ever said to you?
Ha!! I've been blessed to have letters written to me over the years, but it's not what they say, but how they behave after they've left my class. Students call my name down the hall to just say hi. Students who take the time to come and say good-bye when they leave the school. Students who return to see you when they visit the school. Most recently, I've had several third graders visit my class (due to sub shortages), one student said, "I don't want you next year." I asked, "Why?" His response, "You're hard core!" I'll take that as a compliment!
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Miriam Wright Edelman
What is one book every educator must read?
The Education of Richard Rodriquez.
What’s your dream vacation?
A beach...a clean beach...a quiet, sunny, clean beach. (Perhaps in Santorini)
What is one fun fact that most people don’t know about you?
I was rescue by helicopter from a backpacking trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
What is your other favorite thing to do (besides education, or course!)?
Walk with my dogs.
If a song played every time you walked into a room, what would that song be?
Right now...Where's the Love, Black Eyed Peas
Anything else you’d like to share?
If I were 20 again, I would love to become a dog trainer!
Kathleen Kanu-Thompson has been a teacher for 18 years. Beginning in 1997 with teaching technology at Immaculate Heart of Mary, and In Grand Rapids Public Schools since 1998. During her tenure at Grand Rapids Public she has taught grades 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and served four years as a Michigan Reading First Literacy Coach. A second career educator, she has an undergraduate Bachelors of Science degree from Western Michigan University in Merchandising. She earned her Masters in the Art of Teaching from Aquinas College in 1996. During her tenure in teaching she became a trainer in LETRS, Write From the Beginning and earned a fellowship with the Lake Michigan Writing Project. She has been married for 21 years and has one son. It is her hope that the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship will provide her opportunities to work in developing educational policy that positively impacts the academic, social and emotional success of all children in the state of Michigan.