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Omaha Magazine

Four Moves Ahead

Mar 12, 2020 02:42PM ● By Sandra Martin

Mondays happen. Whether one works in a dream job or one they dislike, everyone has a day where they are low on energy.

Everyone, except, perhaps, Kendra Steiner.

“School has to be our happy place,” she said. “Even if we come to school tired or sad, we have to leave those feelings at the door and make it a positive day.”

She practices what she preaches. Steiner gives each student a high-five as they enter and leave the classroom.

Steiner had taught kindergarten at Masters Elementary School with Omaha Public Schools for two years when a statement she made to a new principal came to fruition.

“Whatever you need, you let me know,” Steiner said to principal Lynnette Keyes as soon as she was hired in summer 2019.

As Keyes settled into her job, she realized she needed a fourth-grade teacher. Keyes asked if Steiner was serious about helping, because she had a big request for her. Steiner immediately said yes.

When she started teaching fourth grade, it felt overwhelming. “This was a big change for me,” she said, “I was suddenly back to teaching fractions and decimals, that, of course, are not taught in kindergarten.”

Keyes realized the request was unusual.

“It’s not easy for a teacher to switch grades,” said Keyes, “and she didn’t even hesitate.”

Steiner's energy is boundless. Keyes was previously principal at Standing Bear Elementary, where Steiner taught summer school. Keyes said Steiner is known for helping students. “Kendra goes out of her way to make sure that she’s connecting with each and every student in her classroom,” Keyes said. “She has even offered to go to other classrooms to work with former students who she connected with in the past if they are struggling.”

She knows students sometimes need encouragement. “I struggled with learning to read at your age,” Steiner said to a student who was having trouble with math, “and now I’m teaching it.”

Kendra Steiner and a student

Her path to teaching was non-traditional. She started as a preschool teacher at La Petite Academy. While working there, she earned a degree in education, then continued to earn two master’s degrees.

After several months of teaching fourth grade, she said she is glad to be teaching again at the higher level. “It’s exciting to see how kids at this age are blossoming,” she said, “and to help them reach their potential.”

Steiner thinks it’s important to create a family community in her classroom where everyone can feel safe to talk about anything and ask questions without fear of ridicule from their classmates. To reinforce this idea, Steiner has placed a “burden box” in her classroom for students to fill with notes about anything that’s troubling them. Damia Parker, one of her students, likes being able to express herself in this way.

“Once I wrote about someone who was being bullied, and Miss Steiner talked to the class about how wrong it was to bully someone,” Parker said.

Keyes also described Steiner as a “team player,” as evidenced by the way she made the switch from teaching kindergarten to fourth grade this year.

“Mrs. Steiner is a dedicated, hard-working and flexible teacher,” Keyes said. “She is always looking for new strategies to use in the classroom to ensure success for all her students. Mrs. Steiner is a positive role model to both students and staff.”

On a snow day in February, Steiner found a way to keep the children engaged and learning even when they were out of class. She sent the students an assignment through her classroom online learning application and awarded her first three students to complete the assignment a free T-shirt.

Steiner said walking into her classroom every day makes her happy. “You know in your heart when you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing,” she said. “It just feels right.”

For Steiner, teaching “feels right,” even on Mondays.

This article was printed in the 2020 Summer Camp Edition of Family Guide.

Kendra Steiner in a classroom

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