Aspen Elementary School’s “Miss Kim” teaches kindness in the classroom
Educator will retire after 13 years in district
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a month-long series on Aspen School District’s retiring teachers. New features will run every Friday in The Aspen Times through the month of June.
Aspen Elementary School’s “Miss Kim” encourages her students to think about what they want to do when they grow up, rather than what they want to be.
“When people say what do you want to be when you grow up, it puts you in such a box,” she said. “Think about, what is it they want to do, what do they want to do to make a difference in this world?”
Kim retires this year after 13 years at Aspen Elementary School and nearly three decades as a teacher. (She asked that her last name not be published out of privacy concerns.)
The years have flown by in the blink of an eye, she said. In that time, she’s been able to do what she wants to do and be what she wants to be, too.
“A career in education allows you to be a role model, be kind, be a lifelong learner, be all those things you want to model for the kids,” she said. “It kind of happens naturally when you’re an educator, that’s for sure.”
Her work in the field has run the gamut here in Aspen through roles in first- and second-grade classrooms, the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse department for English language learners and the Multi Tiered System of Support program, where she currently serves as a coordinator focused on differentiated instruction to meet students’ individual needs. (She also briefly dabbled in transportation, driving up Castle Creek Road amid a shortage of bus drivers.)
“If you ask Kim to do something, she’ll do it, and she’ll do it really well. … She’s such an asset in whatever she does and we’re really going to miss her, her lightness,” Aspen Elementary Assistant Principal Sara Lowe said.
The two have known each other for more than a decade and used to work in tandem co-teaching second-graders. Kim has a “gift” for connecting with students and identifying what they need to succeed, Lowe said.
“There’s nobody like her. She’s wise,” Lowe said.
Kim described it as a “finish each other’s sentence” partnership. It’s one of many friendships she’s forged in the community that Kim said she’ll miss when she retires.
“The reality of leaving is hitting me,” she said. “It’s the people, but I want to believe that those people I’m closest with will keep in touch and I really look forward to coming back and having this as a vacation place, of course.”
Employee housing provided by the district allowed her to become embedded within the community in ways that wouldn’t have been possible elsewhere, she said.
“The families who I made connections with who live here, and really all over the world, I keep in touch, I’m friends with them. … I think that’s really special to be able to know they were more than students and they were more than families, that we’d become friends,” she said.
Though Miss Kim will retire from the district this year, she doesn’t plan to kick up her feet just yet. She’ll be trading the mountains for the ocean and moving back to South Florida, where she intends to continue working in education; teaching isn’t a field she could quit cold turkey.
“A lot of my self-worth comes from my job,” she said. “I thought about going down to Florida and really not even considering teaching, and when I started to think about it, I was like, gosh, this is just what I’ve done, what I’ve known.”
It’s about more than just teaching kids how to read and write, she said.
“I feel like being a good human being is just as important for them to see — they see their teachers as leaders and as good human beings, it’s so much more than just academics to be able to be a role model in so many other ways. Be kind.”
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In her 22 years at Aspen School District, Julie Markalunas Hall said the district and the community have “always put in the passion and the effort. … They both have to do it together to provide the resources that kids need.”