Nikki Thies spent four years as an instructional coach before returning to the classroom.
“I missed the classroom terribly, so I knew it was time to come back,” Thies says.
This is now her 10th year teaching, and her second year at Greenwood Elementary School in Des Moines. She was previously at Garton Elementary on Des Moines’ east side for eight years.
She’s been teaching fourth grade at Greenwood, and says it’s the best grade level.
“The students still love you,” she explains. “The students still want to please you. But that maturity level is there where they can take care of themselves and fend for themselves.”
At this age, they can focus on the academics, Thies says, versus a lot of the “nurturing” that goes on in the lower levels.
Building relationships with students and watching them meet her high expectations is what Thies enjoys most about being a teacher. But, she stresses, motivating students to want to do the work and meet her standards only comes after taking a personal interest in each of them. That means building mutual respect and learning about their lives, from their family issues to problems with friends.
“When they know you believe in them, they will do anything for you,” she says.
The amount of time and effort needed to ensure students do well is intense, Thies says, and addressing all the aspects needed to make a classroom run smoothly can be overwhelming. But she doesn’t regret going into the field.
She attributes much of who she is as a teacher to her mentor, Janet Laws, who still teaches at Garton Elementary. Thies remembers writing down verbatim the things Laws would say in class to her students, who would be engaged and produce high-quality work for her. Thies took note of everything from Laws’ classroom management to her tone of voice and how she handled difficult parents.
“I would assure you that I would not be where I am today without her,” Thies says.
Her advice to parents is to have open communication with her.
“I’m here to serve you,” Thies says. “If you’re unhappy, contact me. If that dialogue isn’t there, I can’t be successful.”