“It is so easy to get sucked into the trials and tribulations that come with teaching, and that is why our membership is so important” says IEA and Idaho Falls Education member Kirstin Wheeler. “Teachers have a responsibility to encourage and support each other and reinforce that what we do matters.”
Wheeler is in her fourth year at Edgemont Gardens Elementary School in Idaho Falls after previous teaching stints in Bonneville and Fruitland. She will be working with fifth graders this year, but also has an extensive background in special education. “Working in Special Education was very rewarding because I had kids for more than one year and I got to see their growth and enjoy the fruits of my investment in their success,” Wheeler says.
Wheeler recently became the Vice-President of the Idaho Falls Education Association, which is a logical next step in her growing appreciation for the value of Association membership. “The people here in IFEA make such a difference in making sure that members have the support and resources they need,” she notes. “It makes it so clear why my choice to join makes a difference.”
Her early years of teaching in Fruitland coincided with the reign of former State Superintendent Tom Luna, which left a bit of a bad taste in her mouth. “Teachers were really getting a bad rap (and sometimes they still do),” Wheeler says. “The majority of people do this for altruistic reasons—it’s too hard otherwise. You have to be in it for the right reasons.”
During her first years as a teacher, Wheeler also participated in an IEA Region 3 SPARKS training for early career educators. “I remember how tailored it was to my needs and how I took away so many tips and tools,” she says. “Sometimes you encounter roadblocks in your first years, and SPARKS gave me the resources and guidance to work around those, as well as how to work effectively with my colleagues.”
Wheeler knows that early career educators aren’t the only ones who face challenges, however, and the support of colleagues and state and local associations can really make a difference. “The nature of teachers is to give 10,000 percent,” she says. “Because we give so much it is harder to replenish our personal buckets, and without our colleagues we can get disheartened.”
In particular, Wheeler points out the impact that IFEA President Joyce Rogers and veteran Association leader Zoe Jorgensen have had. Joyce has been an amazing role model,” she says. “And Zoe’s Master Teacher Premium training was a great reminder that teachers are doing incredible things, and the MTP program is a chance to document what we are doing.”
Becoming a parent herself has impacted Wheeler’s professional practice as well. She and her husband, Wayne, have a three-year-old daughter, Clarice. “It has made me much more patient with parents,” she says. “I recognize better now that parents have many hard decisions to make and face many different circumstances that lead to those decisions.”