It is immediately apparent that Jenni Heller of Southeast Elementary is passionate about her job and absolutely loves teaching her kindergarten students.
“For a lot of people, you go to your job and work on production sheets, or you sell things, or you try to achieve a goal,” she says. “I come to work, and I get to work with everybody’s most prized possessions every day.”
A 13-year teaching veteran, Heller did not ever see herself becoming an educator. She began her education at Wartburg College as an accounting major because she loves organization. In her freshman year, she was put in to a suite with six girls, three of whom were education majors.
“I found myself also doing their homework, and thinking, ‘Wow my accounting homework really stinks.’ Before long I was moving away from the business stuff, and by the end of the first semester I had switched majors and went into teaching,” she explains.
Heller prides herself in her unwavering dedication to her work, and her students.
“I eat, live and breathe school,” she says. She recognizes her ability to be able to reflect upon her day as one of her greatest strengths.
“If there is a day when more than one child has a rough day, it’s probably something I did. I need to sit back and think; ‘OK what did I do different today that they just didn’t seem to find the beat?’ It makes me think of better ways to reach them.”
Growing up, Heller did not have a teacher who was able to spark an interest within her, like she sees herself and her colleagues spark in some of their students.
“I would have loved to have someone just get me interested in something,” she says. “I feel like I floated through unnoticed. I never want these kids to feel that way.”
As a kindergarten teacher, Heller feels she has a really important job.
“If they are not hook, line and sinker thrilled about being here, then man, the next 12 years are going to be tough. We have to set that foundation,” she says.
She believes when she steps through her classroom door, she is not there just to pass the time. She is there to make a difference, and she bends over backward to do everything she can for her students.
“You can’t fail at your job today, or you’re failing a child,” Heller says.