Teacher Tuesday: LASD’s Heidi Urka, not ‘just’ a teacher.

May 12, 2020

Teacher Tuesday: LASD’s Heidi Urka, not ‘just’ a teacher.

Teacher Tuesday is a presentation of Metalworks, a small, family-run company with facilities located in Ludington and Manistee, manufacturing metal office filing systems. Be sure to show your support by liking the Metalworks Facebook page here.

By Kate Krieger, MCP Staff Writer.

LUDINGTON – With a love for reading and volunteering, Ludington Area School District teacher, Heidi Urka discovered a passion for teaching while volunteering in her daughter, Kaitlin’s kindergarten classroom.

“After we returned to Ludington, my daughter started kindergarten in Julie Marshall’s classroom at Franklin Elementary,” she said. “I found that I really enjoyed volunteering in her classroom. I was fascinated with the variety of learning styles and abilities and how teachers were able to meet each student’s needs. I saw the early elementary classroom as a great venue to build a foundation for literacy. Shortly thereafter, my sister-in-law Linn invited me to take a children’s literature class with her at West Shore Community College. I have always been an avid reader and wanted to learn how to best pass that love on to my own daughter. While taking the class, I learned about the teacher education program at Central Michigan University. Before I knew it, I was commuting to Mt. Pleasant to earn my teaching degree. It was a big adjustment for all of my family. I am so grateful for friends and relatives who helped out with child care and transportation so that I could pursue a dream. I have since earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Grand Valley State University.

Urka is a 1980 graduate of Ludington High School and has been with LASD for over 20 years.

“I have taught for Ludington Area Schools for 22 years,” she said. ”I spent two years at Lakeview Elementary, when it was a third through sixth grade building, in a Title One position. For the past 20 years, I have been at Franklin Elementary, where I have taught kindergarten and first grade.”
With a love for teaching the fundamentals to her students, Urka said she had a different and special experience teaching the lower grade levels when she entered the classroom for the first time.

“Having a child of my own gave me a unique perspective into child development that I did not have when I graduated from high school in 1980,” she said. “Parents or guardians are children’s most important teachers. I feel that being a parent first gave me a unique perspective as I entered the teaching profession. Having my own child also allowed me to make note of what types of experiences she found memorable and from which she learned.”

There is no doubt that Urka really enjoys teaching in the lower grade levels and she credits her current and past students for much of that love.

“The best part of teaching is my students,” she said. “I love watching them grow socially and academically. My favorite part of teaching is finding ways to teach curriculum that make it fun, interactive and memorable for my students. I also want to build connections beyond the classroom. It is important that students see themselves as part of a larger community and recognize their responsibilities within that community. I feel that it is just as important that my students learn social skills as academics. Both my husband and I were raised by self-employed parents (Heidi is the daughter of Russ and Janet Miller, owners of Russ Miller Photography). I know the importance of ‘soft skills’ like teamwork and communication that often outweigh the importance of content knowledge. Working in an early elementary setting, my hope is to build those skills in students so that they can be lifelong learners and citizens of the world. While, of course, I teach content, I strive to help students see how the skills they are learning will be applicable far beyond the classroom. I am continually learning from my students, their families and my amazing coworkers.”

Another thing Urka is passionate about is the way young students learn and she feels that if outside circumstances are affecting students and their abilities, the requirements set for those students can be more difficult for them to meet.

“If I could change one thing about teaching, it would be to make the standards more developmentally appropriate,” she said. “We are learning so much about the importance of meeting students’ basic needs, especially those students who have experienced trauma. It is important that we have the time and resources to do so, without worrying about always achieving academic benchmarks. That being said, I believe in having high expectations for my students, but I need to be able to adequately support them in achieving them. I do think that this shutdown has made some people realize all of the important roles that educators play in students’ lives. I’m hopeful that that will have a lasting positive affect on education.”

With many other circumstances affecting the lives of students in the classroom, Urka gives those looking into becoming educators a bit of advice.

“Know that you are going to wear many hats,” she said. “You are not ‘just a teacher.’ You will feed, cloth, counsel and comfort. Most importantly, you will love. Your heart will swell with pride as you watch your students succeed, and break as you see their challenges.”

During these uncertain times for educators and students, Urka has had to accept new ways of teaching and has had to provide a different approach to comfort and offering assistance to her students and families. One unique thing Urka did was place yard signs in each of her student’s yard, stating that she missed them and she hoped that they were keeping on their reading and in return, many of her students made their own signs for her and placed them in her front yard as well.

“This old dog has had to learn a lot of new tricks for teaching during this shutdown,” she said. I’m blessed with an amazing group of coworkers who are working together to provide great virtual learning resources. Many of my friends are educators. I have always admired their commitment to their students and their extraordinary efforts to meet everyone’s needs. I miss daily interactions with and between my students and all the learning they provide. However, I am enjoying finding fun ways for my students and I to remain connected. I want them to know that I am still their teacher and I’m still here for them.”

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