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Katie Haan: Thirty-two years of students and thirty-two student teachers later

By Andrew De Young

You might think that a three-week trip to Japan-a trip funded entirely by a Fulbright Scholarship, no less-would be pretty exciting. But for Katie Haan ('65), it's no big deal; she's done her share of traveling in the past.

Fifth graders in Katie Haan's class loved the opportunity to have some fun during the photoshoot of their teacher.

Fifth graders in Katie Haan's class loved the opportunity to have some fun during the photoshoot of their teacher.

"Back in 1980 I went with a group to India for six weeks," she says. "Now that was something. We went all over the place, and we even had an audience with Indira Ghandi."

Haan has been other places, too-Liberia, China, Mexico, Venezuela, Australia, New Zealand, and many others. Looking at a list of the places she's traveled, you might think that she has a glamorous or high paying career, but you'd be wrong. For the last forty years, she's been an elementary school teacher, and she's spent more than thirty of those years at Sioux Center Christian School

The daughter of former Dordt president B.J. Haan, she says that the decision to teach was one she came to pretty naturally.

"My father and mother were very supportive of Christian education," she says. "And there weren't as many options for women back then as there are now." After graduating from Dordt with a two-year degree in 1962, she went straight to work at the Christian School in Edgerton, Minnesota. Just one year later, excited about Dordt's decision to become a four-year college, Haan returned to school.

After graduating again, this time with a bachelor's degree, she spent some time bouncing from one teaching position to another-two years in Edmonton, Alberta, four years in Sioux Center, two years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then back to Sioux Center, this time for good.

Back in Sioux Center, it would have been easy for Haan to settle down and enjoy a quiet, peaceful life in the northwest corner of Iowa, but that's not what she did. In 1980, she was one of several recipients of a Fulbright Haze Group Scholarship, a scholarship that allowed her to spend six weeks in India. It was a trip, she says, that changed her life and her teaching forever.

"It's such an overwhelming experience," she says. "There's nothing like engaging all the senses. You can look at pictures of a place, but it's not the same. When you're there, you can smell it and taste it." They went all over the country, she says, and did all sorts of things, but she especially values the opportunity they had to have a private audience with Indira Ghandi, who was prime minister of India at the time.

"Since we were there on the Fulbright, we got the best of everything," she says. "But the thing that I remember most is the terrible poverty over there. There's such a contrast-when you walk down the street you can see some people driving cars and others pulling wooden carts. It was an amazing experience."

These days, Haan travels whenever she gets the opportunity. In 1984, she took a year off at Sioux Center Christian School to teach missionaries' children. In 2000, she went to China with Heifer Project International, an organization that gives animals to people who are struggling with poverty. And just last year, Haan and 199 other teachers went overseas to observe the Japanese educational system. The trip was funded, she says, by the Fulbright Memorial Teacher's Fund with the intention of promoting a cooperative, learning relationship between Japanese and American schools.

Haan values those opportunities, opportunities to travel, serve, and learn in other countries. But she feels that her students reap the benefits as well. A few years ago, Haan started the Make The Money Grow Project, an idea she got from reading the biblical Parable of the Talents. Every October, she gives each of her fifth graders five dollars-seed money, she says, which will hopefully grow over the school year. In April, they take their profits and give them to the Heifer Project International.

"It adds so much depth to your teaching," she says. "We can be so provincial, so narrow minded. We talk about being reconciling agents in the world, but how can we do that if we don't understand other cultures?"

Teaching young people about other cultures, she says, is no easy task. When they hear about the ways people around the world live, eat, dress, and worship, students often react by scoffing.

"The common reaction is to laugh or say 'that's stupid,'" she says. "That's the kind of reaction that I'm trying to work against. These people may be different from us in a lot of ways, but everyone everywhere has the same needs and desires as we do-we all want happiness and love."

In addition to being a great fifth grade teacher, Haan is also a great teacher of teachers-in thirty-two years at Sioux Center Christian, she's teamed up with thirty-two student teachers from Dordt. Helping student teachers find their footing in the classroom, she says, is a matter of direction and guidance.

"I don't expect them to emulate me," she says. "There are so many challenges in teaching, and I don't think that there's one right way to do it. The most important thing to remember is that you're teaching students, not curriculum. If you remember that, then your teaching will be a little bit different every year, because you will adapt to your students and their needs."