FMS English teacher begins her 40th year of teaching
Karen Holt, who on Monday began her 40th year as a Frenship Middle School English teacher, said she has been teaching second generation students — the children of former students — for at least 10 years, but to her knowledge, she hasn’t yet crossed over into the third generation.
“The day when a student comes up and says, ‘You taught my grandmother,’ I will take it as a sign from God that it is time for me to leave,” she joked.
When Holt opened her classroom Monday for a new year of seventh-grade English students, she was working in a building that she first saw in the fall of 1959 when she was a fifth-grader. Her family had just moved her from East Texas after her father, a Baptist minister, had taken a job with the Hurlwood Baptist Church.
Little did she know she would be spending her entire professional career in that same building — which has been expanded several times in the 51 years since.
Holt said her fifth-grade teacher was Mrs. Emmons, who remains one of her greatest inspirations as a teacher to this day. She determined that she was going to have the same atmosphere in her classroom that Mrs. Emmons had in hers, where every child was wanted and accepted, she said.
“She was such a precious example of what a good teacher was,” Holt said.
Her desire to be a teacher goes back to her childhood. Holt remembers being a 9-year-old who would arrange chairs like a classroom and teach her younger sisters, who were 6 and 3.
Her father noticed her interest and instilled in her a desire to be a good teacher from that early age, she said. And he later gave her one of her most treasured possessions.
When Holt’s daughter was born 25 years ago, her father, who was then retired as a minister, served as her substitute teacher. When she returned to her classroom after her maternity leave, her father left a note stuck to a desk calendar.
It read: “Dear Karen, Everything went fine. Your kids are great. Your room is beautiful. In fact, I guess I’m sort of partial. You are a good teacher.”
She lost her father 17 years ago, but that worn note hangs on her school filing cabinet to this day. It is the first thing she puts up every summer when she starts to get her room ready for the new school year, she said.
Her first four years of teaching were spent teaching eighth-grade English, but she has taught seventh-grade English ever since.
“A lot of people don’t like junior high kids. But when they are in the seventh grade, they are still young enough to love the teacher. They minister a lot more to me sometimes than I minister to them,” Holt said.
Teaching English is still a thrill to her after all of these years because she loves teaching her students the power of words, she said. She gives her students many opportunities to learn how to use words effectively, she said.
One of the first assignments she gives her students every year is to have them write letters to their most memorable teachers. Holt sends those letters to the teachers shortly before Christmas, she said.
And during the second week of school every year, Holt gives an assignment to the parents. The assignment reads, “Tell me about your child in a million words or less.”
Either the mothers or the fathers can complete the assignment, and many times both of them do, she said. The students are instructed to read the letters before they bring them to school.
“To see it in words that ‘Mom loves me and is proud of me’ is really special to them. It is awesome to have your parents brag on you,” she said.
She has amassed a huge pile of wonderful memories from her years as a teacher. One of the most special from her early years was when her students sent a floral arrangment to her in sympathy for her losing her uncle, and a special memory from recent years came last winter with the support of Frenship Middle School students for the U Can Share Food Drive.
“This year my heart swelled with so much pride as I presented our check for $4,200 and our 1,660 pounds of food to (the food drive volunteers). All the FMS students went above and beyond to make this our biggest donation to date. We even took the winning class to volunteer one afternoon at the (South Plains) Food Bank. Watching my students give of themselves is my greatest reward as a teacher,” she said.
Holt graduated from Frenship High School in 1971 and attended West Texas A&M University, which was then called West Texas State University. Shortly before her college graduation, she was offered a teaching job by Wyman Ritchey, who had been her high school counselor and was then the junior high school principal.
She recalls she was hesitant to take the job because her little brothers and their friends were in school and she would have to teach them. Teaching jobs were hard to get in the early 1970s, she said, and Ritchey convinced her to take the job for at least a couple of years and get experience that could help her get another job if she wanted to move on.
“But I kind of liked it here,” she said.
When she started teaching in 1971, she was teaching with faculty members who had taught her. By the time she retires, many of her curent colleagues in the Frenship Independent School District will be people she has taught.
Larry Allen, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Peoples Bank, was one of her students from the early days of her career.
“I had her 35 years ago, and I can still quote ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost that I had to learn in her class,” Allen said.
The Allen family is one of Holt’s many “second generation” families. Allen said Holt taught his daughter and son, and they both enjoyed her as a teacher.
“She was a fun teacher. She always made English fun and interesting,” Allen said. “She treated everybody the same, no matter who you were or what your background was. She just loves kids.”
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