If you’ve been a parent at Steele Elementary at any time in the last two decades, chances are you know Mrs. Williams. She is passionate about her students and as we find ourselves now homeschooling our kids, her absence in their lives is glaringly obvious. Like most teachers, she is a rock star.
You are a Colorado native, tell us a little about you. Where did you grow up and how did you land in Wash Park?
I was born and raised in Leadville with three brothers. Held all the typical jobs growing up; babysitting, tour guide at all the historic attractions; waitress; hostess; maid at the hotels in Vail; worked underground in the Climax Molybdenum mine as a ditch digger. I met my husband in high school – he was best friends with my big brother. Consequently, we only had one date in high school as big brother did not like best friend dating little sister. Fast forward lots of years, we’ve been married 30. I ended up in West Wash Park in silly way, really. When we were getting married, I was working in the DTC. My then fiancé had an office downtown. So, we took an old-fashioned math compass and drew a circle three miles from his office and three from mine, and it intersected in Wash Park. When I was transferred downtown, I still didn’t have that much of a commute. Back then, there were so many HUD homes – I’ll bet we looked at 115! We found our house and haven’t moved since. (and with all the stuff we have accumulated, I don’t want to!)
You are a beloved para-professional at Steele Elementary. When did you start teaching at Steele and can you share some favorite memories from over the years?
So many years! One principal said I’d been there since the earth was cooling! Both our sons attended Steele – I was there volunteering so much, they just decided to hire me! So, I’ve been a member of the Steele community going on 20 years.
I have SO many memories – the first that comes to mind is of a fifth grader leaving. I was helping with bus duty, she gave me a big hug and said ‘oh – you smell like memories!’ Then of course, there is the story of “beautiful princess Mrs. Williams” for all the doubters, who don’t’ think I am a real princess. So, I show my students a picture of my castle and of my new carriage on order. I’ve been asked to bring in one of my tiaras: I did, and one little bit asked to touch it, so I let her. Her eyes got as big as saucers, she looked at her friends and said, “Guys, it’s real!” The whole princess thing came about with a little one so scared and just crying, crying, crying. I apparently thought quick on my feet and asked if she had ever had a teacher who was a real-live princess before. And voila – Beautiful Princess Mrs. Williams!
What are some of the biggest misconceptions of public school teachers?
I think the biggest miscon-ception is that teachers have so much time off. Most take continuing education classes and spend a lot of the summer readying their classrooms and updating the curriculum for the kids in the fall. Once the kids get to school, there is barely time to breathe, much less re-arrange the classroom. I haven’t met a teacher yet who doesn’t work nights and weekends. Teaching is a very fluid career. Yes, we have curriculum and standards, but if a child isn’t understanding something, if the whole lesson isn’t what the class needs, then we go back, re-do it and try again. We try very hard to meet the very different needs of all the kids in the classroom.
As parents across the globe take their stab at “homeschooling,” what advice would you give? How can we keep these kids engaged?
I feel so badly for all the parents trying to figure this out while working a full-time job from home as well. Especially with the littles, you really can’t leave them to their own devices (no pun intended!). My advice isn’t all that creative: Do what you can. None of us has ever done anything like this before, so we are all learning what will work as well as what won’t. Ask for help. We are all still available and most teachers have ‘office hours’ when you can ask things specifically about your child or an assignment. Reach out to the second educators, as well. We miss our kids and are here to help. Bottom line is something I’ve always said – we can’t teach anyone without each other. We are a team and only want the best for your child and our other 28 kiddos. We need to be patient with each other, adults as well as children. Most kids want and need some sort of consistency, direction and schedule in their lives. This has thrown all that out the window. So, be patient. Ask questions. Cuddle. Enjoy the time we have with one another.
How can the community aid our teachers and administrators when schools are back in session?
I really don’t know what the ‘new normal’ will look like. I guess again, patience. When we do come back to school in the fall, there will be plenty to catch up on, on so many levels. Social emotional as well as all the academic stuff. I’m hoping we will be able to ask for your help and vice-versa.
During this pause, many Colorado natives have noted that the city seems like “old Denver.” What are your thoughts about how this city has changed over the years?
So true! As a Coloradoan (please note the ’o’, because I don’t live in the state of Colorad) and Denverite, I have enjoyed the slower pace, less traffic on the roads and a kinder feeling in the air. Much like after 9/11, people seem to have a little more patience with each other. (Unless you go to the Next-door app!). As for changes – and this is a can of worms – just so many more people, the density is starting to feel a little like Chicago or New York. As your last magazine said, I am also not seeing a lot of people caring for the history of the town or the neighborhood. Homes being built without looking at the architectural integrity of the neighborhood. Buildings being torn down or changed so dramatically both in and outside that history is being erased, as well. That isn’t something that is easy to replace or get back.
As a mother yourself, how are you and your family managing during the quarantine?
I will say, this is one of the few times I’m glad that my boys are older. They handle their schoolwork without the need of much checking in. So we don’t have to be the bad guys too much. Lots of games of Uno, chess, Wii bowling and movies. Trying to enjoy this forced family fun before it, and they, are gone!
What are you most looking forward to doing, visiting, eating after the lock-down is lifted?
This sounds so stupid. But walking. Just walking. Putting music on and walking. Aimlessly. Carelessly. Freely. Going and seeing my mom & brothers and their families. Driving down to see my dad and his wife. And hugging! Hugging my kiddos. Seeing their smiles and hearing “Mrs. Williams!” 75,000 times a day!
We too, are excited to give you and all of our beloved teachers a big hug for the work you continue to do to shape our kid’s futures. Thank you, thank you, thank you.