Orion graduates receive Master Teacher Awards

Kayci Woodley

Two of the top educators in the area graduated from Orion High School. 

Janice Gustafson, a 1969 graduate, and Kirk Humphreys, a 1997 graduate, both received Master Teacher Awards from the Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus.

Gustafson has been teaching kindergarten at C.R. Hanna Elementary School, Orion, for 28 years and plans to retire in two years. Humphreys is in his seventh year teaching seventh and eighth grade math, algebra and pre-algebra at Washington Junior High School in Rock Island.

Upon nomination, both teachers created a 15-page letter that included teaching philosophies, techniques, accomplishments and letters of support. 

The nominees looked to colleagues, former students, parents of students, and administrators to write letters supporting that the nominees deserve the prestigious accolade.

Jan Gustafson

Teaching a kindergarten class can be unpredictable at times, but Janice Gustafson wakes up every morning with as much enthusiasm as the 21 students in her class. 

Gustafson displays her dedication through continually learning up-to-date teaching techniques and sharing her knowledge with others, bettering the administration and the students’ education.

“I am living on the bright side of life,” Gustafson said. “I come in here every day, and all the enthusiasm and the joy makes me see life in a fun way.” 

Her first experience of teaching started in a Sunday school classroom at the Methodist church in her senior year of high school. After teaching a group of third graders for a short time, Gustafson saw teaching as her forte.

“I have never wavered and never once felt like I should have done something else,” Gustafson said with a grin. “I feel like I have the perfect profession for me.”

Gustafson accepts success with humble appreciation. In some professions, awards and honors outside of the job are essential, but to Gustafson, her reward comes every day in the classroom.

Whether it be a hug from a student that says “I love you” or knowing that a child is finally starting to understand a concept, Gustafson receives rewards all the time.

“You just do your job and you don’t really think about that,” Gustafson said in reference to the award. “With teaching, you are rewarded everyday.”

Gustafson said it was “heartwarming” reading some of the recommendations sent anonymously with her nomination letter.

Gustafson’s style of teaching involves making concepts understandable to every student, at every level. She simply wants every student to “get it.”

What makes Gustafson so deserving of this honor are not only her teaching skills and tactics, but also the work she puts in outside of herclassroom. She continually educates herself on the newest information and teaching styles, and then shares her knowledge with others.

“She is always willing to go above and beyond what she does here,” said fellow kindergarten teacher Susan Routt. “She has taken what she’s learned and all of her expertise and she’s tried to share it with other teachers.”

Gustafson’s post-graduate work alone displays her dedication. With 24 semester hours of education after earning her master’s degree, Gustafson just keeps learning. 

Eight of the 24 hours are in Near & Far Science, a state leadership activity program for teachers in the earth and space sciences. 

Gustafson has also attended workshops, gifted classes, computer courses and telescope classes.

“She always makes sure that her curriculum is what it’s supposed to be,” Routt said. “She will do everything possible to make sure we are meeting these children’s needs.”

Kirk Humphreys

In his seventh year at Washington Junior High School, Humphreys has found what some long to find their entire lives. 

Kirk Humphreys simply loves his job.

With a smile, Humphreys talks of the students in his classes and how much he enjoys working with young children who truly want to learn.

“It’s just great to know that you’re affecting students’ lives in a positive way,” Humphreys said.

Humphreys chose teaching because of the former teachers who impacted his life at Orion Middle School. When he was a seventh grader, his father passed away. His teachers helped him through the loss.

“They made a difference in my life, so that is why I wanted to become a teacher,” Humphreys said. “I wanted to make a difference in the lives of students.”

The philosophy of Humphrey’s teaching is simple: Expect the best.

“I have high expectations,” Humphreys said. “There is not one student that I do not expect the best from.”

Along with a high expectations, Humphreys also expects respect from his pupils. Some teachers may not see respect from students as a necessity, but to Humphreys respect is essential.

“If the kids don’t respect you, they aren’t going to want to do well for you,” Humphreys said. “My students really want to do well and I think because of that they succeed.”

While Humphreys may seem strict, he also knows how to get the students to enjoy his class. It’s not your everyday math class in Humphrey’s room. It’s a fun place to be.

One of Humphrey’s teaching tools is a Promethean interactive whiteboard. Students can text the answers and questions they have anonymously.

With the interactive board, students don’t fear the embarrassment of asking a question. Only Humphreys knows what students are asking the questions or giving the answers. According to Humphreys, not a day goes by without the students asking to use the boards.

Other teachers may rely on getting through the curriculum required and never relating the subject to real-life situations. This can cause a lack of effort and concentration on the part of the students, which is why Humphreys makes sure to relate his material to topics outside of the classroom.

“I really think I relate to the kids,” Humphreys said. “I relate what I’m doing to what kids need to learn math for.”

Humphreys has been teaching for the shortest amount of time of all the Master Teachers this year. To receive this award at such a young age speaks volumes of Humphreys’ success as an educator.

“To know that these people said these things about me, to know they support that I receive the award, is really an honor,” Humphreys said in regards to the letters submitted with his nomination packet. “It’s amazing. It really is—to know people think I do a great job.”