This time of year signals a return to school for thousands of Iowa kids, from kindergarten through college. Of course, those kids’ teachers have been hard at work in their classrooms since the beginning of summer, preparing for the hustle and bustle of the coming year.
And one of the busiest—and best—is Waukee High School English teacher Ann Hanigan-Kotz.
Hanigan-Kotz is heading into her 32nd year of teaching, and she identified her desire to teach early in her college career. After choosing English as a major, “I was practical in wanting a job from my degree,” she said. “I decided I could use my degree in the classroom.” A lifelong lover of reading and analyzing literature, she also wanted to help students the way she had been helped by her own English teachers.
Hanigan-Kotz started teaching in the Waukee School District in 1991 and has now taught all levels of high school English. She said the students are what she enjoys most about her work. “They’re so funny and fun to be around,” she explained. “I especially enjoy watching them grow in their writing and thinking skills. They become so confident. Their academic and personal growth is exciting to watch.”
She has high praise for her students’ parents and her peers, as well. “The students at Waukee work hard and appreciate their education,” she said. “Their parents are supportive of their learning. I also admire the teachers in the district. They’re professional and care deeply about all of the students. I watch my colleagues go beyond their job description. They put so much of themselves into their profession.”
Hanigan-Kotz fits this mold herself. In addition to teaching advanced English, she also acts as the education teacher at Waukee High School, teaching Introduction to Education, a dual-credit DMACC class that allows students the chance to experience teaching for themselves. A survey class, Introduction to Education, gives students experience in all aspects of teaching, including a practicum component during which they spend 140 hours in the classroom, working with individuals, small groups and the whole class. “They teach, assess, plan and prepare teaching materials,” said Hanigan-Kotz. “They get a far more thorough experience than the colleges can give them.”
Thanks to Hanigan-Kotz, Introduction to Education isn’t the only dual-credit education class available to Waukee High School students. She recently approached UNI and persuaded the university to partner with the school to offer a children’s literature class for education students. According to Hanigan-Kotz, children’s literature is a required course for all elementary education majors, regardless of where they attend college. She team-teaches the course with UNI professor Dr. JD Cryer. She said she wanted to add the literature class to give interested students another education course to take after they finish Introduction to Education.
“They were passionate about being in the classroom, and I wanted to keep that passion burning,” she explained.
She’s also in the process of working with UNI to add another dual-credit class, ideally a course for students who are interested in elementary or secondary education. Hanigan-Kotz wants to ensure that students interested in pursuing education have as many options as possible to further that interest. “We need these passionate young people to go into our profession,” she said. “Teaching is such an honorable and important profession, and it has been so meaningful in my life. I want to share that with others.”
By all appearances, Hanigan-Kotz is making a big impact. She was nominated to be this issue’s Featured Teacher by retired Waukee High School educator Connie Tow, who began teaching there at the same time as Hanigan-Kotz and speaks very highly of her former colleague.
“Her commitment to excellence in the classroom results in students being extraordinarily well-prepared for life after high school, whether on the job or in college,” said Tow. “Her students comment on her high expectations for student achievement and her dedication to their success.”
Tow was the original instructor for the Introduction to Education DMACC class at Waukee High School and said she believes Hanigan-Kotz is doing a tremendous job helping to launch prospective future educators. “Ann’s commitment to quality learning opportunities for students and staff make her a valuable resource to our district,” said Tow. “A true professional. A dedicated teacher. A valued friend to many. A lifelong learner: Ann Hanigan-Kotz.”