By MaryHelen Swanson
To as many as 26 small people, nine months of the year, she’s a mom, grandma, nurse, friend, disciplinarian… why she’s a kindergarten teacher.
And Pam Hendricks, who has been all this to so many, many little children for 31 years in the North Branch school district, was named Teacher of the Year by her peers in the North Branch Education Association this past spring.
Perhaps dealing with 5 year olds for that many years she should have been sainted, but Hendricks humbly accepts the honor bestowed because she deeply loves her job.
The start of her career
An eager young woman, Hendricks hurried through college so she could get a start on her dream career.
She came to the North Branch school district as a 21-year-old taking a job teaching third grade. She did that for four years.
But when the opportunity arose to be a kindergarten teacher, she jumped at the chance.
“I really always wanted to teach kindergarten,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s been my passion.”
She loves teaching the little ones, because she said, they love school, they love their teachers, and they love to learn.
“They laugh and they learn,” Hendricks continued, with a chuckle of her own.
Still, if there’s 26 in the class, then they bring with them 26 different experiences.
”Our job is to teach them from where they come in and take them a far as they can go,” she said of her position as a kindergarten teacher in the NB schools.
Looking back 31 years, Hendricks noted that back then kindergarten – often the child’s first introduction to education – was big art projects, letters and numbers.
Today it’s reading and technology … and not so many art projects.
“We want our children to succeed and we do everything to make them succeed.”
That today’s kindergartners are familiar with things like computers causes Hendricks to say, “Yeah for parents, day care centers…….” for providing the children with these opportunities.
Besides the difference in academic progress, Hendricks sees a difference in the social skills of today’s kindergartners.
Thirty years ago there was a lot of crying, a lot of anxiety separation when a child came to kindergarten.
Now, she said, with day care and other activities, these children are used to being out and about.
Even so, with those 26 different experiences, “Laughter has to be a part of it,” she mused.
More than the teaching
Teaching in the North Branch school district is more than loving the children and wanting them to succeed.
What Hendricks also loves about it, is that the other people, her colleagues, know she’s there for the greater good of them, also. This becomes evident when you learn that she has been actively involved in district business, serving on a variety of committees, including Q Comp, ER&D, Staff Development, Curriculum, Peer Coaching, Mentoring, Executive Committee of the NBEA, and Insurance.
People can come to her, she said, she believes in being a team player.
And, with a wide sweep of her arms, she said “It’s all of us serving our students.”
“I love what I do and the friendships I have made at the school.”
“It’s the best,” she added.
She said she teaches with a great bunch of kindergarten teachers who share the good moments and sometimes the frustrating ones.
But she noted, at the end of the day we can laugh at ourselves and “we’re all there for the kids.”
More importantly, Hendricks feels that being in the NB school district is like a big family whose members support each other and work together.
“We have each other’s backs.”
Hendricks, who holds a bachelors degree in Early Childhood Education through sixth grade and a masters degree in Emotional Behavioral Disability K-12, was presented a plaque for the Teacher of the Year distinction at a staff appreciation breakfast June 7.
“I was very honored to get the award,” she said.
That same morning Superintendent Deb Henton said this about her: “Pam is the kind of kindergarten teacher every parent wants for their kindergarten student. She is caring, creative and highly skilled. We are proud of Pam’s selection as teacher of the year!”
Not over yet
Hendricks could be looking at retirement, but she’s giving no indication at this time. Her husband retired a few years ago as a middle school special education teacher. The couple has two grown children: a daughter living in Florida, who works at Disney, and a son living in Minneapolis, who works for Wells Fargo.
When she’s not tending to a flock of little people, Hendricks likes to raise flowers, and enjoys the lake. She likes being with friends, she likes reading, decorating and shopping.
But she loves her job as a kindergarten teacher, and equally as much the whole picture that includes her peers in the NB school system.
“It’s been a great ride.”