Local Education Spotlight: Meet the Zieglers, part 1

For the Ziegler family, education is a bit of a family tradition. Karen, and her two daughters Kristie and Katria, work in the Billings school system. Karen has worked in education for almost four decades — she taught fifth and sixth grade for 21 years before becoming an elementary principal. She is now the principal at Orchard Elementary School. Kristie has taught in School District Two for 11 years, and is now a Literacy Coach for the district’s new primary teachers and reading interventionists. This is Katria’s first year; she teaches second grade at Sandstone Elementary. The Ziegler ladies say teaching is one of the most rewarding challenges they have ever undertaken.

Because we are celebrating moms, teachers, and women in general all month long, Simply Jessica recently sat down with the Zieglers to see how education has changed over the years. Here is part one of the interview. Look for part two coming soon!

SFM: What made you want to go into education? Did you always know that you wanted to be a teacher?

Karen Ziegler: I have always enjoyed learning, and in the educational field you continually grow alongside your students. There are always new educational studies, new technology, and advances in the study of the best way children learn and grow that keep us on our toes. I have always had a love for children. Becoming a teacher was an easy choice for me. 

Kristie Ziegler Martin: In all honesty, while in school, becoming a teacher wasn’t my first choice. However, it was something that came naturally to me as I had watched my parents (both educators) through many, many years of hard work. Deep down I knew that teaching was my calling, even though it took me a little while to admit that to myself. My parents were a huge influence in my career choice. My mom spent countless evenings at school and home working to make a difference in her students’ lives, just as she still does. My dad was the same. I watched him work hard, in tougher schools, to make a great experience for kids. Throughout my elementary, high school, and college years, I watched not only students — but colleagues — come back and tell my parents how important they had been in their lives. Witnessing that was incredibly powerful, and I knew I wanted to be like that, too. I wanted to change someone’s life through education, while meeting and learning from incredible people along the way. 

Katria Ziegler: My mom, dad, and sister were my inspiration to go into teaching. I grew up watching them work in their classrooms. They all worked so hard to make their classrooms a positive and safe learning environment for their students. When my mom became a principal, I would often go to her school with her on the weekends, and she would give me little jobs to do. As I started my teaching degree, I would volunteer in my sister’s classroom. This gave me a lot of insight into how much went into running a successful classroom. I knew it was hard work, but I knew that it was something I wanted to do. I am so proud to be teaching in an early childhood environment. I learn from them as much as they learn from me. It is amazing to see how much having a routine, structure, and effectively implementing standards based lessons can have a successful impact on early childhood learning. 

SFM: What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

Karen Ziegler: Teaching is never easy, but arriving at work every day and seeing those eager little faces and their smiles makes it a joy to come to work. 

Kristie Ziegler Martin: There are many things I love about teaching. One is the relationship you build with your students. I had the privilege of having my very first group of first graders again as sixth graders. It was amazing to watch these kids grow through the years and work hard to become incredible young adults. There is nothing better than when a student says to you, “You have changed how I learn, you have made me a better reader, writer, and student. I wouldn’t be here without you. You are the most important person in my life.” Pretty dang powerful. My other favorite thing is when the “lightbulb” comes on for a student and they feel success. Especially little tiny kindergarteners and first graders learning to write. When the “lightbulb” comes on for them and they start to understand how text works — it’s amazing to see them put words on paper, and have those words make sense and actually mean something to them. Watching them feel proud of something they have learned and begun to master is pretty great, because you know you had a hand in making that happen. 

Katria Ziegler: My favorite thing about teaching is getting to know my students and their different abilities. Seeing your students succeed and make growth from the beginning of the year to the end of the year is a great feeling. Knowing I have made an impact in a child’s life, and that I have inspired my students tells me I have done my job. 

SFM: What’s the hardest thing about teaching?

Karen Ziegler: The challenges in education are so different than they were even 10 years ago. The biggest change that has come about is the family unit. Many single parents and grandparents are raising children, and the poverty level is more prevalent. We are not only educating students, but taking care of their many basic needs and supporting their social and emotional needs. 

Kristie Ziegler Martin: The hardest thing about teaching is how in the world do you do it all: be successful and balance your life outside of school? I often watch my colleagues’ faces when they are in one of our primary literacy trainings, and there is so much information being spewed at them, and they are looking at me with panic going, “how am I going to do all of this and make a difference in a child’s life?” Finding a balance is  challenging. 

Katria Ziegler: The hardest thing about teaching is being able to think on your feet and being prepared for anything that comes your way. You have to be confident in your quick decision making and you have to be sure it is in the best interest of your students. Handling every situation with grace can sometimes be hard. 

Look for part two of our education spotlight coming soon! May is Teacher Appreciation Month, as another school year winds down be sure to shine some recognition on the outstanding teachers in your (and your child's) lives.

About the author...Born and raised in southeast Texas, Jessica currently lives in Billings, Montana with her husband, her two year old daughter Savannah, and their newest addition, one year old Emma Kate. Jessica graduated from Texas Christian University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. By day, Jessica works as a licensed Realtor, and moonlights as a freelance writer/photographer for several businesses around town.