Building character

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Janet McNeill

The Cassville Community Teachers Association (CCTA) Teacher of the Year Janet McNeill and Young Educator of the Year Kelin Kruse share at least one thing in common. Both educators focus on helping students build character while providing them with a quality education.

"I want my students to set goals for themselves and realize that they can achieve those goals," said McNeill. "Respect and compassion is a big component of teaching. Students need to feel secure and respected in the classroom."

"My goal is to see students be successful in the classroom and even more so when they go on to college and life," said Kruse. "I want the things they learn here to help them throughout their lives."

McNeill, who graduated from Wheaton High School in 1994, earned a bachelor of arts in education from Missouri Southern State University before beginning her teaching career.

McNeill's degree included 12 hours of foreign language study, which enabled her to obtain a part-time position as a provisional English and Spanish teacher at Wheaton in 1998. She continued her education and earned an English teaching certificate at Missouri State University.

After teaching at Wheaton for five years, McNeill accepted a position teaching communication arts at Cassville High School in 2003. She completed her master's degree in education through William Woods University in 2009.

"My grandpa, Gene Courdin, was a teacher," said McNeill. "He taught vo-ag and retired from Cassville during the 1993-94 school year.

"During his career, he made such an impact on his students," said McNeill. "I knew that I wanted to do something like that."

McNeill said her career in education was also influenced by her high school English teacher, Rhonda Crane.

"I had her all four years of high school, which means I have known her since I was 14," said McNeill. "She had humor in the classroom or could be serious. She made her students work, but we learned so much."

McNeill kept in contact with Crane throughout college. Crane also served as McNeill's teaching mentor during the five years she served at Wheaton High School.

Kruse was also influenced by several educators during his high school education. He graduated from East Newton High School in 2006.

"Those individuals helped me develop into who I am today," said Kruse. "A lot of the decisions I have made have been based on what I learned from a couple teachers who were good role models for me.

"I also chose this career because I enjoy being around students," said Kruse. "I like helping them, and I hope I can give them something that helps them throughout their lives."

Kelin Kruse

Kruse, who has a degree in agriculture education from the University of Missouri-Columbia, is now completing a master's degree in agriculture education through Mizzou.

"Cassville is the first school I have taught at," said Kruse. "I started here in 2010."

After earning his bachelor's degree, Kruse said he knew he must be willing to relocate in order to obtain a position teaching agriculture.

"I was very fortunate when this position came open," said Kruse. "There are not a lot of positions available in agriculture, and this position was really close to home in a community I was already familiar with. I knew this was a good school."

Both McNeill and Kruse take pride in having an outstanding ability to connect with their students.

"I have kids in my classroom who come from a variety of backgrounds," said McNeill. "Some are even working to support their families. I feel it is important to connect with them.

"I believe making a lasting impression on them is more important than ensuring they understand Julius Caesar, but along the way they learn that too," added McNeill.

In addition to connecting with high school students, Kruse has created relationships with adults and middle school students in the Cassville community. For instance, over the last two years, he has worked to expand CHS's adult agriculture classes from quarterly to monthly sessions offered throughout the school year.

"These classes have been very successful," said Kruse. "We have around 40 people attending the classes now."

Working with Charli Jo Epperly, Cassville's other agriculture instructor, Kruse has also worked to strengthen CHS's FFA chapter using programs like the newly established middle school agriculture club. Kruse oversees the club.

"The middle school ag club is open to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students," said Kruse. "The club helps students get involved in ag younger and inspires them to enroll in ag science I, which is a good tool for kids interested in FFA."

Next year, McNeill will also have the opportunity to inspire younger students. She will move from the position teaching sophomore and junior students, which she has held for the last nine years, to a position teaching communication arts at the sixth grade level.

"I love high school students, but I thought this would be a fun challenge and a nice change," said McNeill.

As they continue their careers, Kruse and McNeill said they will focus on taking care of each student who enters their classrooms.

"Taking care of kids, meeting their needs and helping make them successful are the most important goals," said Kruse. "Everything else seems to work out."

Both McNeill and Kruse admit that they were surprised to be recognized by CCTA this year.

"I was really surprised to receive the Teacher of the Year Award," said McNeill. "I work with so many great people. My co-workers are fantastic, and I love everybody who I work with."

"It was surprising to be honored," said Kruse, "but it was a really nice thing for them to do."

McNeill lives in the Cassville area with her husband, Brooks, and children, Jake, Natalie and Luke.

Kruse lives in Fairview with his wife, Aubry. The couple recently welcomed home their first child, a son named Porter.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: