You want your little one’s first day, first month, first year of school to be nothing short of great. Hardin Valley Elementary School kindergarten teacher, Adrienne Casey, is just the teacher to get your child’s education journey off to the right start!
Adam: Where were you born?
Adrienne: I was born in Monroeville, Alabama.
Adam: Where is that?
Adrienne: That is south of Montgomery, north Mobile, kind of in the middle of the cities. The nearest interstate is about 45 minutes away.
Adam: Were you raised there as well?
Adrienne: Yes, I went to a K through 12 public school. I started kindergarten there and graduated with 50 people.
Adam: Wow. What was your mascot?
Adrienne: We were the Panthers.
Adam: Where did you go to college at?
Adrienne: I went to the University of Mobile in Mobile, Alabama. It’s a small Christian school. I got a Bachelors of Science in Religion and then I got my Masters in Teaching from Liberty University.
Adam: So how many years have you taught?
Adrienne: This is my fifth year to teach and my fourth year to teach kindergarten. I taught one year of fourth grade in Nashville and then I moved here and I started teaching kindergarten and they’ve all been at Hardin Valley Elementary.
Adam: Do you sponsor any clubs or coach any sports or any activities with the kids or the teachers?
Adrienne: No, not anything in the school now, but in the spring I do my own thing with my class. We have class dates every month. So I’ll invite my class out once a month to meet me somewhere. We go to Chick-Fil-A or McDonald’s or somewhere like that. We don’t start that until after Christmas.
Adam: What level of participation do you get?
Adrienne: Usually we have 16 to 18 out of 20 families show up. I’ve always had high participation. I’ve done it the last two years that I’ve been here. So I’ve had really high participation.
Adam: Where’d you get that idea from?
Adrienne: I liked my kids so much. I wanted to hang out with them and I don’t have a house big enough for everyone or a vehicle big enough to go pick them all up. So I figured their parents have to bring them all to me.
Adam: So waiting until spring, is that part of the teaching adage of, ‘stay tough through Christmas then you can lighten up a little bit?’
Adrienne: No, it just takes that long for kindergarteners to get adjusted. I mean it really does.
They will come back from Christmas totally different. They will mature a lot, which is kind of strange.
Adam: Why did you get into teaching?
Adrienne: It’s not because I love children, so let me just say that first, which is crazy. I like teaching, I like the art of teaching. I like seeing people learn something new and I feel like that’s just something that comes naturally to me. So even in my everyday life when I’m not in a classroom, I feel like that’s just something that comes naturally, that I enjoy doing. So it really has nothing to do with children because I would teach adults.
Adam: Where else do you find yourself teaching?
Adrienne: I have taught different ages in church. I’ve taught at camps in the summer. I’ve taught adults. I worked at Fuge camps for a lot of summers through LifeWay and taught students in seventh through twelfth grade. Then I became a director and a development director. I actually taught the youth ministers that came in, their wives and the chaperones. And so I enjoyed that too. I enjoy teaching adults, children…it doesn’t matter. I just enjoy teaching.
Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching?
Adrienne: I would probably still be teaching, but I just wouldn’t be teaching in this environment. I’d probably be teaching in Cape Town or somewhere like that. If time and money were no object, I probably still would teach, but my location would be a lot different.
Adam: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student?
Adrienne: My favorite teacher was, I have a few, but if I had to pick one it was Miss Fails. She was my teacher in first grade and she just thought I was wonderful. She just made school wonderful and fun and I have really fond memories of first grade.
Adam: Which educator have you learned the most from?
Adrienne: Probably my supervising teacher, Jennifer Burnell, when I was student teaching and then she became a coworker. So I actually student taught in fourth grade and then I got a job at that school in fourth grade and so she became my teammate.
Adam: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Adrienne: I would say getting my Masters degree. It was during a hard time in my life and I did it anyways.
Adam: What do you consider a successful student to be?
Adrienne: A successful student is one that is not the same at the end of the year. That’s a successful student and that looks different for different students. There’s no measure of growth defined by ‘as long as you can do x, y, and z,’ then you’re successful. I think as long as you’ve grown and matured and you’re learning from when I first met you until you leave my class, you’re a successful student.
Adam: What improvement would you like most to see made to public education?
Adrienne: I think for kindergarten specifically, the evaluation system. The way that we are evaluated and the way we are to evaluate students needs significant change. I am currently working with several educators to make improvements. We have several ideas that are more age and developmentally appropriate. We think it is important for the state standards to align with the state’s expectations of what we do on a daily basis.
Our group has done a lot of work to make that happen: we have met with our local representatives and our state representatives. We sent two of our kindergarten teachers to the state to testify before the TN State Board of Education. I have met with the superintendent myself. I’ve written letters to both gubernatorial candidates, including Governor-elect Bill Lee. We have tried to cause change in the best way we know how: reaching out to people who can really make the change.
Adam: I respect and appreciate that you’re doing more than just complaining about it. Now, people are justified in their complaints but good on you.
Adrienne: That’s our thing; we didn’t want to just be complainers. If we’re going to complain about it then we’re going to do something about it.
Adam: What’s something that you could use in your classroom?
Adrienne: The students can always use gift cards. So that’s what I always tell my parents because we do projects all year long and instead of saying, ‘I need two people to send in a box of Cheerios, three people to send pumpkins’…just send gift cards because that seems to be the easiest.
Adam: Where are the best stores to get gift cards?
Adrienne: Visa, grocery stores, Walmart, Target. Just somewhere you can get everything, food, etc.
Adam: What are some hobbies that you have?
Adrienne: Well, I’ve recently taken up kayaking. I enjoy that and I enjoy hiking. I’m actually planning to take an extended kayaking trip in the spring or the summer that will have overnights. I ultimately want to kayak from my home county in Monroeville down the Alabama River all the way to the Mobile Bay, which would be about three overnights.
Adam: What is a good way for a parent or a student to spoil you?
Adrienne: Wow. I’m pretty easy to please. I like to eat and I like to get my nails done and I like to shop. So I’m pretty easy.
Adam: Tell me a favorite restaurant and favorite place to shop.
Adrienne: I like Southern Market, Old Navy and Target.
Adam: If every restaurant disappeared except the one that you name right now, which one has to stick around in Knoxville?
Adrienne: I would probably not want Stock and Barrel to go away. Just because, I mean it’s really good.
Adam: And you get a burger there?
Adam: What’s their best one over there?
Adrienne: I liked the one that has pimento cheese on it. (The Hurt Locker). Also, I love a Jet’s pizza and I really shouldn’t love it as much as I do. I get a Jet 10.