Teacher Spotlight: Keri Hansen, preparing special students for life.

March 4, 2021

Teacher Spotlight: Keri Hansen, preparing special students for life.

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, staff writer.

Teacher Spotlight is a presentation of Shelby State Bank, www.shelbybank.com with offices in Ludington, Pentwater, Shelby, Hart, Hesperia, Manistee, Montague, Whitehall, North Muskegon, and Fruitport. 

LUDINGTON – Keri (Cole) Hansen always knew she wanted to work with kids and to help make a difference in their lives. Growing up with family members who received special education services, Hansen knew she wanted to specifically work with children who needed that extra care and support.

“I have always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I have always believed that if I could make a difference, even if it is for only one kiddo, I could help change the world one person at a time. I have two cousins who were in the Severely Multiply Impaired classroom and they were amazing. They taught me so much and made me want to be a better person and a better teacher. I wanted to show kids that it didn’t matter what their circumstance was or what they struggled with, that together we could find a way to make school-work and help them succeed.”

Hansen has been teaching special education for 17 years, with the majority of her time spent at the West Shore Educational Service District.

She taught two years in a self-contained classroom at White Cloud Public Schools for two years, teaching grades kindergarten through second. She then taught in the WSESD’s moderately cognitively impaired classroom for six years, teaching ages 13 through 26. For the past nine years she has been teaching in the moderately cognitively impaired (MoCI) classroom located at Lakeview Elementary, working with grades K-2. 

Hansen is a 2000 graduate of Mason County Eastern High School. She graduated from Calvin College (now Calvin University) in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree. She then graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2012 with a master’s degree. 

Hansen said she very much enjoys working with her students, families and the paraprofessionals who work with her on a daily basis.

“I like collaborating with colleagues,” she said. “I work with three paraprofessionals and I love the relationships that are built within our group. It truly takes a village and I have the best village helping me teach my students. I love working with kids and making a difference in each day.”

The ESD houses the majority of its classrooms within different schools throughout its service district in Mason, Oceana, and Lake counties. Hansen’s class is located in Ludington at Lakeview Elementary School.

Special education is funded by a millage of 2.38. Of that rate, 1 mill is up for renewal during the May 4 election. 

“Most of my classroom is made of up students with moderate cognitive impairments as well as students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD),” Hansen said. “My three paraprofessionals support myself and the students to optimize learning to the maximum extent. We work on reading, math, science, daily living skills, independent skills, and community skills as well. We are trying to build skills from a young age that will help my students to be as independent as possible when they are adults. We want our kids to be able to hold jobs and to support themselves whenever possible and this starts from when they are young. They too, need a solid foundation to build off to be successful. We spend a lot of time on what it looks like to be a learner and giving students tools for their toolbox to help them manage behaviors. 

“Life if difficult even when you are young, and the more tools we can put in toolboxes when they are younger, the better and more successful they can be as teens, young adults, and adults as well.”

Hansen said she has really enjoyed working with the staff at Lakeview, even though she is actually an employee of the ESD. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, she had an opportunity to collaborate with the other classes, which was very beneficial for her students as well as the Lakeview students.

“Two years ago, we started a peer-to-peer program with the second-grade classes. Mrs. King, Mrs. McVannel, and Mrs. Hanson all agreed to partner with me, and we had a phenomenal turnout. Their students would come down in two groups once a week and would help my students in either a movement group (gym) or a cooking activity. Students were given a buddy based on similar interests and they worked together to complete activities as a group. The friendships that blossomed and the behaviors that improved were a couple of the added benefits this program helped to provide for students. We haven’t been able to have peer-to-peer this year due to the restrictions of COVID, but we are looking forward to getting back to it when we can.”

Working with the other professionals in the building has been very enjoyable for Hansen, but the kids are, and will always be her favorite part of being a teacher.

“My most favorite thing is seeing students build their confidence and skills and feel good about all of the things they can do,” she said. “It is so rewarding to help students achieve things that others told them or their parents they would never be able to do! Set the bar high and they will reach it every time.”

With lawmakers controlling a lot of what happens in the nation’s classrooms, Hansen would like to see a more hands-on approach from them to truly understand what all goes into education and being a teacher on the front line.

“I would like for the lawmakers to come and teach what they are asking our teachers to do,” Hansen said. “They place demands on educators that are very difficult, yet teachers rise up to meet those demands and then some on a daily basis, but I think that we all would agree that we would love to be able to give them a little bit of their childhood back. They are pushed constantly to learn this, write this and read that, but have lost the ability to problem solve, play together with others, and handle difficult situations. Kids need time to play, explore new things, use their imaginations to find solutions to problems and be outside the box thinkers.”

Even though there are many demands on educators, Hansen said it still is an amazing career, and she encourages students to follow their dreams if they want to become a teacher and to ask questions to get a better understanding of what teaching really looks like.

“What took me the longest to learn is don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Hansen said. “I always thought that I should know how to do everything asked of me and that everyone else already knew what they were doing. That is the farthest thing from the truth. Veteran teachers have just as many questions and things they need help with too. It is ok if you don’t know, the only way to know is to ask. Don’t be afraid to share what you know and ask what you don’t. This is the absolute best way to grow as an educator. Be a team play and help where you can and listen when you need to.”

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