Entering the doors of Crothersville Elementary School, turning left and stepping into the three classrooms on the left side of the hallway, you will be greeted by young women just beginning their new careers.
Keeli Bowling, 22, and Olivia Cain, 23, are the fourth-grade teachers at the school, and Natasha Lewis, 25, is the sole fifth-grade teacher.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery
Then continuing down the hallway and crossing into the high school, you will find that building’s only new teacher, Jacob “Jay” Payne, 27.
Crothersville was the first Jackson County district to start the 2018-19 school year Thursday, so as students settle in, so are these four teachers.
Bowling graduated from Scottsburg High School in 2014 and then headed to Hanover College to pursue an elementary education degree.
“I kind of always had it in the back of my mind, and then in high school, I worked with Blessings in a Backpack, and I realized I really wanted to help students, and the best way to do that was in the classroom,” she said. “That really set it in.”
In the fall of 2017, she did her student teaching at New Washington Elementary School.
“It was a ride, that’s for sure. Definitely challenging,” she said, smiling. “But I think it just made me love it more. I had an awesome mentor that kind of gave me the reins and let me do what I wanted to do in the classroom, which I think was helpful. Then I did a temporary after that, so I got my feet wet, and I had my own classroom for a quarter.”
At the beginning of this year, she returned to Hanover College to take her final five classes. In May, she earned her degree.
Earlier this summer, she applied for a position at Crothersville, but it wound up being filled. Then Friday afternoon, Principal Drew Markel emailed her about an opening, and she was hired the next day.
While that was good news, it meant she only had a few days to get her classroom ready.
“It was exciting, but it was super-overwhelming to come in and to have a blank slate, like, ‘Oh my gosh, what do I do?’” she said, smiling. “I’ve had two days to do it, so it has been overwhelming, but it has been exciting.”
Bowling has 22 fourth-graders in her classroom.
“I’m really excited for the new challenges that are going to happen because I’ve never taught fourth grade before, so it’s exciting just being in a new place,” she said. “I like taking on new things, so I think that will be exciting, and I’m really excited just to see how my kids grow because I love children.”
Growing up in Columbus, Cain said she developed an interest in becoming a teacher when she was in first grade.
“Because I really love learning,” she said. “That’s the biggest part of me is that I just keep learning and learning and learning.”
After graduating from Columbus North High School in 2013, she went to Purdue University with a different field of study in mind.
“I was going into prevet, premed,” she said. “My first two days of school there, I switched to teaching, and I’ve been there ever since.”
Cain graduated from Purdue in 2017 and served as a teaching assistant at W.D. Richards Elementary School in Columbus for a semester. Then for the second semester, she was a Title I instructional assistant at Seymour-Redding Elementary School, where she did a lot of response to intervention work with kids.
She found out about an opening at Crothersville through Lewis, who was a student teacher at Redding.
“For the past year, I’ve been looking for a teaching job,” Cain said. “I came down here and interviewed, and I really enjoyed the people that I interviewed with. They were really nice, really welcoming, and that’s the type of person that I am, and that’s the type of place that I wanted to be in, so I thought this was a good fit for me.”
She spent the past week getting her classroom ready for her 21 students. She met them for the first time during an open house Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s going to be very nerve-racking for them having a new teacher, let alone a first-year teacher,” she said. “Then me being in the position that I am is also nerve-racking, but it’s going to be exciting.”
Cain said she looks forward to getting to know the kids and developing relationships with the school.
“The most exciting part that I’m ready for is getting to bring music and art into the classroom,” she said. “I play the ukulele and sing and all that kind of stuff.”
Lewis is the only Jackson County native among the new teachers, having grown up in Seymour..
After graduating from Seymour High School in 2011, she went to Ball State University to study nursing. After a year there, she got married and moved to upstate New York with her husband, Dustin Lewis, who was serving in the military.
In 2014, after his deployment and they had their first child, they decided to move back to Indiana. Lewis said she realized her passion was teaching, so she enrolled in Ivy Tech Community College and went on to earn an associate degree in elementary education.
Then she transferred to Indiana University Southeast and earned her bachelor’s degree with a concentration in social studies in May.
From January to May, she was a student teacher at Seymour-Redding. She also worked at a day care in Uniontown.
She sent her résumé to Crothersville a couple of times in hopes of landing a teaching job.
She was offered a position in June, and the school board approved her hiring in July. Since then, she has been getting her classroom ready.
Her 32 students will find a different atmosphere with the lights turned off and three floor lamps and a lava lamp on.
“Decorating and trying to create a warm and inviting learning environment is my goal,” she said. “Overhead lights can be too harsh, and I think that when you have lamps, it creates more of a welcoming home environment.”
Lewis said she’s excited about the different personalities of her students.
“I like to see how they blend, and then teach them how to work with those personalities because when they get out into the real world, they’re going to have to work with different personalities anyway,” she said. “To teach them that at a young age, I think, is fun and exciting, and they can contribute something different, too, in the classroom.”
Lewis also is coaching middle school volleyball, and she plans to work at the day care during the summer break.
Jacob “Jay” Payne
Payne grew up in Terre Haute and later graduated from Clay City High School in 2010.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies education from Indiana State University four years later, spending his last semester teaching at Sarah Scott Middle School in Terre Haute.
After receiving a scholarship, he went back to Indiana State and earned a master’s degree in curriculum instruction in December. He’s now working on a master’s degree in school administration.
He recently moved to New Albany with his girlfriend starting pharmacy school in Louisville, Kentucky, and was looking for a teaching job. Crothersville was the closest one, so he applied and was hired after an opening came up.
Payne said he is passionate about education because growing up, he was diagnosed with a learning disability called high-functioning attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He said he could grasp information quickly, but he would get bored and hyper in class, which distracted other students.
“I actually had a special ed teacher with me growing up who was very patient with me and showed me the ropes, gave me extra responsibilities to keep me on task,” he said. “Just based on what she did kind of wanted me to get into education so I could help other students.”
He chose to teach social studies because the study of human history and how it has evolved has been a longtime interest.
“I just felt that me being able to tell a story and then also try to come up with analogies that relate to some of the students’ interests and incorporate those within my instruction is really going to help them be engaged,” he said.
This school year, he is teaching U.S. history, world history, economics, ethics, political science and Indiana government and also an eighth-grade U.S. history class.
Later on, Payne said his goal is to get into school administration.
“I feel like right now, I’m still in the prime of my teaching years, so I feel like to maybe do that for about five to 10 years and just have that under my belt so if an opportunity does arise, I can possibly look into that,” he said.
For now, he is ready for his first year at Crothersville.
“I’m excited. Go Tigers!” he said, smiling.