Kelly Capell selected Placer County teacher of the year

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(COURTESY / KELLY CAPELL)

JULIE NGUYEN

Recently, English teacher Kelly Capell received the honor of being chosen as the Placer County teacher of the year. Capell, who has been teaching for 13 years, was selected as RJUHSD teacher of the year back in December. While she will not be advancing in the competition, Capell has been able to reflect upon some of her experiences as an English and AVID teacher throughout her career.

 

What have been some of your favorite experiences while teaching?
My favorite experiences are when students end up enjoying and connecting to literature. I once had a senior repeating English 10 my first year of teaching and we were reading/performing Julius Caesar. He was enthusiastically playing Caesar in the death scene and he got called to the office to go home early and he was so mad because he wanted to stay… to finish Shakespeare and have his moment. I love that moment in the term when I know students enough to have inside jokes and to chat with them about their interests. I have learned so much from my students that has helped shape who I am. I had a graffiti artist who gave me a love of Banksy, an athlete who shared a football player’s autobiography and said maybe that famous athlete wasn’t as bad as people said, and an aspiring rapper who told me the life story of Tupac Shakur and led me to read more of his poetry… and these just name a few!

 

How did you get into/know that teaching was for you?
In a funny twist, I ran across my Kindergarten journals a few years ago where I had written that I wanted to be a teacher “because I wanted to write on chalkboards and yell at kids!” While that is 100% true, I also grew up in a family of teachers as my dad was a teacher and my brother is currently a teacher. I had so many great teachers growing up, and I knew that teaching was for me… as for why English, I LOVED reading and figured what better major than one where I can read all the time!

 

What is your favorite part of the classroom environment?
I love being with students. Every day is different and even the hard days, there is still some redeeming quality. There is constant movement and personalities that make me have to make numerous decisions and changes which means it is NEVER boring and I love that! It makes the way we are doing school now very hard because more than ever, I realize how much I love being around others and having face to face conversations.

 

What is the most rewarding part of being able to work with teenagers?
The most rewarding part is building the confidence of a student. A student will many times enter an English classroom with a lack of confidence when it comes to writing or reading or poetry. I take it as a personal challenge to show that student that they have what it takes to be good at all those things and I am there to guide them to improve those skills! I love finding that one book a student loves when maybe they disliked reading before, or seeing a student correctly analyze a poem with no help from me or write a strong essay that I know a college professor would be proud of. That to me makes it worth it!

 

What have you learned from your years of teaching?
I have learned that oftentimes when a student is acting out, it usually has nothing to do with me and I cannot take it personally. Instead, I try to figure out how I can support them through what we are going through while maintaining a peaceful classroom. A good example of this was one of my first years of teaching, I had a student and he was having a bad day and I was having a bad day. Needless to say, we needled each other and I kicked him out of class for being what I felt was rude and not doing his work. Come to find out, another teacher (not a current RHS teacher) had said some hurtful things to him the period before. When I found this out, I sought out the student and apologized for my lack of patience with him. He apologized for his actions. He was one of my best students after that and he felt he could be honest when he was having a bad day so we could work through the situation in a way that was positive for both of us. I quickly learned it isn’t about me and once I learned that, I think I started to become a better teacher.
What is your main purpose/motto/catchphrase that you aim to teach by? This is a hard one… a few years ago, a student gave me a Sandlot shirt that said “You are killing me smalls” because apparently I kept saying that, but I wouldn’t say it is my philosophy. Maybe Just try… even if it isn’t right, we have something now we can work on! I want students to never be afraid to answer because they think they may be wrong!

 

What do you believe is unique to you in your teaching? What personal touch do you aim to add?
Similar to my thoughts above, I try to create an atmosphere where students feel valued and that they can answer, not that only a few students in class should be answering. I had a professor in college, an English professor, and they way he taught Shakespeare to a huge group of non-English majors impressed me because you had EVERYONE in class participating and TRYING out answers and he would make them feel that even if the answer was mostly wrong, that they were valued and had something right. I strive to do that. By doing this, students start to realize they are much smarter than they thought. I wouldn’t say that is unique to me, but it is something that I find so important because as I think back to my high school and college experience, I rarely remember exact lessons, but I remember how a teacher made me feel in class and I want my class to be a good experience for my students!