Teacher returns to second grade classroom
By Bob Arnold
If Heather McKenzie was jittery when she came to Wesson Attendance Center (WAC) to teach in 2011, her nervousness quickly dissolved in familiar surroundings. WAC's new second grade teacher found herself in the same classroom where she was a second grade student back in the 1990s.
There were, of course, a few stops on her roundtrip journey -- experiences and learning that equipped her for teaching.
At WAC, McKenzie, a Wesson native, went on to graduate from Wesson High School, initially studied music and voice at Co-Lin before earning her Associate's Degree in education there, and then completed her college career at Southern Mississippi University in Hattiesburg, where she received a BA in education and an MA in education, with a literacy specialty. McKenzie first taught at Eva Gordon Elementary School in Magnolia, Mississippi, from 2005 to 2011, before returning to her second grade classroom at WAC.
McKenzie says she "loved Wesson and WAC" during her childhood and youth because of the special relationships she enjoyed -- knowing everyone in your community and school. "In the attendance center, there was the mix of older youth and younger kids," she recalls. "Your relationships grew and changed with the same kids as you continued through WAC. There was good communication between teachers and students based on relationships that formed and changed over the years."
Back at WAC, relationships remain a key focus for McKenzie in the classroom. As a teacher, McKenzie says she wants her students, above all, to learn to be good citizens and good persons, which, in the final analysis, means "working with each other" -- good relationships. Towards that end, she encourages her second graders to teach each other. "I will teach them, and put them in teaching situations with classmates in which they focus on the same subjects and material. Learning is not a matter of just listening, and kids learn from each other."
McKenzie says she is constantly "trying new things" with her classes, "not doing the same thing all the time" to promote learning. "I also practice 'whole brain teaching' -- getting children to use both of sides of their brains -- in learning," she says. McKenzie believes her particular strength as a teacher is helping children read better, drawing on her Master's Degree studies at Southern Mississippi. "I can figure out why students aren't getting it, and do something," she says.
McKenzie and her husband Wayne, a banker, have two children, who are students at WAC: Ben, 13, a seventh grader, and Kate, 8, a third grader. They live on ten acres in Brookhaven. When she isn't in the classroom, McKenzie enjoys "doing family things" -- camping and outdoors activities. McKenzie also bakes and races in 5K marathon runs.