Dordt College News

After 45 years in classroom Haan to Retire

April 27, 2009


By Kirbee Nykamp for the Sioux Center News

Sioux Center Christian fifth-grade teacher Katie Haan sits at her desk with her hands folded in her lap. Across the desk are the usual papers, a stapler, pens and pencils. Oh, and roosters. Yes, roosters.

"Haan means rooster in Dutch. So I have lots of roosters. It's kind of cute," Haan explained.

The veteran teacher has stuffed roosters, rooster mugs and cups, calendars, posters and cans of an energy drink called Rooster Booster around her classroom. After teaching for 45 years, she says, you collect a lot of different things.

Haan has taught at Sioux Center Christian for a total of 38 years, and at the end of the present school year in May she will be retiring from the classroom.

"I've been very blessed. I've had a really fine career. I enjoy teaching. I have loved being in the classroom and helping children to learn and develop," Haan said.

Haan is the oldest daughter of the late Bernard and Deborah Haan, who were instrumental in Christian education in Sioux Center and the founding of Dordt College. She and her family moved to Sioux Center from Michigan when she was just two and a half in 1945.

As she grew up in Sioux Center, Haan witnessed much of the growth and change of education in the community. When she began attending the Christian School, it was housed in its old building on Main Avenue. In first grade, Haan remembered walking with the rest of the school to its new building.

The school's principal at the time, A.J. Boersma, also lived with the Haan family for several years in the parsonage of First Christian Reformed Church, where Haan's father was the minister.

"I was very closely connected to the school," Haan said. "My parents were very avid in Christian education so we talked a lot at home about it and why we have it. It was such a part of my whole upbringing."

Haan was in seventh grade when Dordt College opened its doors for the first time with her father as its first president. It was a natural move for Haan to attend the two-year college when she graduated from Western Christian.

As for her choice of education, she says at that time there weren't many career options open to young women.

"We didn't have much of a choice. We could either be a secretary or a nurse or we were a teacher. Those were our choices. And who knows if I would have been a student today if I would have become a teacher. There are so many options today," Haan explained.

"Because my parents were so involved in education, it was just the natural choice for me to make. And I've always felt comfortable in my decision," she added.

Haan was a part of the college's final graduating class during its time as two-year teacher's college. She taught third grade for a year at Edgerton Christian in Edgerton, Minnesota, before returning to Dordt once it began a four-year program.

"I was in the last of the two-year and the first of the four-year graduating class in 1965," Haan noted.

When Haan graduated, she decided to venture out of the Sioux Center area, so she accepted a teaching position in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. During her two years there, she had 38 students in her fourth-grade class. She also had that number when she taught her first year in Edgerton. Those were challenges, she said, teachers were expected to take on in those days.

"You have no help. You have no breaks. You do everything. You don't have any prep periods. But that's all we knew, and that's just what we did," Haan remembers.

After two years, Haan decided to come back to Sioux Center, where her five younger siblings were. She taught at the Christian school for four years, under Boersma, the same principal she had known during her time as a student.

"That was kind of a unique experience," Haan remembered. "He was my principal, and he lived with my family, and now I taught with him."

Haan also taught her younger brother for one year, which she said went fine as long as both kept up a "you don't tell on me, and I won't tell on you" policy.

But Haan still wanted some excitement, so she moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to accept a teaching position at an Orthodox Presbyterian school, where she taught fifth grade and later kindergarten in her three years there. During that time, Haan says she gained an appreciation for Christians of other backgrounds and teaching.

"That was a real good experience. I got to meet and visit with people who had the same basic view of scriptures, the child and the role of education, but were from a different background, culture and church. It really broadened my perspective of God," Haan said.

At the end of three years, Haan says Sioux Center called her back. She missed family, she says, and as a single woman felt it was important for her to keep close family ties. But just because she returned to Sioux Center doesn't mean she stopped exploring and traveling.

In 1984 Haan spent a year teaching in Liberia, Africa, through Christian Reformed World Missions. Haan has visited all 50 states, all the Canadian provinces, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, India, Mexico, Costa Rica and Venezuela.

"I thought it was good for me as a teacher to do this. It really broadened my perspective of different cultures, and I could bring that back to the classroom. It just makes you that much more appreciative of how people live and how they contribute to the world. We're so closely connected these days," Haan said.

Haan traveled to India in 1980 through a Fulbright scholarship and spent a week in Japan in 2003 through the Teacher's Memorial Fund to learn more about Japan's educational system.

In the 38 years she has been at Sioux Center Christian, Haan has taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades. Haan has also stayed closely connected to Dordt College and its education department. She has had 38 student teachers, one every year she's taught, and "all kinds of mini-teachers."

And while the building has grown and expanded and teachers and principals have come and gone, Haan says the children themselves are still the same.

"A lot of people have asked me if kids have changed. And I say to them no, not really. They still learn the same, still mature about the same. But I find that parents are quite a bit different. Most parents are working, and kids' lives are very busy," Haan explained.

Haan is quick to add that the support of parents is invaluable for a teacher, and that relationship is something she has worked hard to develop and maintain.

"I have been so fortunate to have very supportive and cooperative parents," she said. "But it's very important that you build up a trust relationship. Then if you try something different, they're not going to be quick to criticize. They realized you won't do something that is going to be harmful, isn't thought out or doesn't have a good reason."

Haan encourages teachers to be open to the ever-changing world of education, but to keep parents well informed all along the way.

"You shouldn't be afraid of failure. Sometimes I think teachers are afraid to do it because they think it won't work. You should never be so set in what you do that you can't change. That's when you get in trouble," Haan said. "But you have to be willing to admit when something isn't working."

Education isn't just bound to the classroom for Haan. She cites a Bible verse, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which instructs people to "impress upon your children" all of God's commandments.

"It's the basic scripture text for having Christian education, and it isn't just supposed to be at home or in the church. It's wherever you are and in whatever you do. I think that really sums up God's command to all of us. That we need to do everything for him," Haan said.

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