Like Lighting a Fire

Name: Ken Smith

Born: Alamosa, Colorado

Education: Columbia Academy, Class of ‘69

Portland State University, Class of ‘78

Major: Elementary Education

Masters: Class of ’81, with reading endorsement

School: Rivergate Seventh-day Adventist School

Teaches: First and second grades

Ken Smith has been teaching first- and second-graders at Rivergate Adventist School for 19 years. Teaching there for that long has many rewards.

Jackie Mathis was in one of Ken’s first classes at Rivergate and returned to do some of her student teaching in his classroom. “It was really fun to have the panorama of those years,” Ken says, “to see her come in with a brand new lunch bucket, dressed in her first-day-of-school clothes, then to have her come back through the same door as an eager, confident young adult ready to teach and lead her own class.”

Another student, Karen Simpson, came back as the school nurse. She gave health lessons to the kids and fixed any little injury that might occur during the day.

Ken credits his mother, Neldalena, a teacher for 36 years, for inspiring him to be an elementary teacher. “I saw how much she enjoyed teaching and how she felt that she was making a difference,” he says. “Some students may not do well in reading or math because they did not receive a good foundation. I want the opportunity to have them learn it properly and build solid skills early on. I do not look at teaching just like filling a bucket with knowledge but like lighting a fire so the student will go through life eagerly learning.”

Charli Jo Davis, a first-grader, likes physical education, recess, lunch and Bible, one of her favorite classes. She thinks her teacher is funny and very smart. But Ken doesn’t just sit around and tell jokes. He will sometimes dramatize the lessons, and when he acts like an old man or maybe an animal, the kids may think it is funny. And maybe it is, but they are learning.

Ken also uses music to assist in the learning process. Attaching certain facts to music helps the knowledge stick with the students through the years. He sets Bible verses, science topics or historical facts to a melody, and when the children learn the song they never forget it. He will fit lyrics to a melody they already know, or sometimes he will compose a little tune. He also uses music to give the students the cue to quietly put their things away and get ready for a new activity.

Ann Campbell, Rivergate principal, says, “Children are like sponges. Enrich the world around them, and they will learn.” One of the ways Ken enriches the school day is by teaching his students sign language and Spanish. He not only teaches them words but also sentences, and teaching those languages gives children other ways to learn.

Ken sums up his philosophy of teaching—and teaching in a Christian school—by saying, “The whole purpose of true education is to point kids to Christ in whatever class they are working on at the time. I want them to have strong skills to be good citizens of this world; but more importantly, what they learn and do here in an Adventist Christian school is preparing them to be good citizens of God's kingdom for eternity."

July 01, 2005 / Feature