For Carla Varner, teaching is not a “one size fits all” profession.
“Teachers need to have lessons that cover a range of skills to meet the needs of their students,” she said. “I try to take field trips, have guest speakers and support a large variety of learning opportunities whenever possible.”
And some field trips have a personal component.
“Last year we took a field trip to my family’s farm where we cooked a meal over a fire,” she recalled. “Several students wanted to know if we were going to have s’mores because they had never had them. You guessed it — our meal was topped off with s’mores.”
Varner earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Emporia State University in 1987 and has continued taking graduate hours from Emporia State. She taught third and fourth grades for 20 years at Lincoln Elementary in El Dorado before moving to fifth grade in 2007.
Unique classroom projects include creating a community quilt and making bread in a bag, both projects that show students how to work toward longer term goals; creating window displays for a local business the class adopts; developing a famous Kansas character for an in-school wax museum and participating in the Adopt-A-Farmer program through the local Farm Bureau.
Teaching life lessons is important to Varner, and admired by her former students.
“I was always the kid who wanted to take work home and do it at home,” wrote a current high school senior who was in Varner’s classroom for fourth and fifth grades. “She would prevent me from doing this so I had to learn how to use my time in the classroom efficiently. … I’ve learned the more I can get done in class, the better off I will be later, giving me more time to focus on my other activities and athletics.”
Varner’s relationships with her students may begin when they enter her classroom but they don’t end when they move to sixth grade.
“I will be their proud ‘school-mom’ whenever I hear about them in the future,” she said. “I love to see my students performing at the high school activities, visiting our school with the band, etc.”
One student recalled visiting Varner’s classroom as a high school senior athlete.
“When I walked into the room it brought me back to fourth grade,” he said. “I remembered her smile and the little chairs. We introduced ourselves and Mrs. Varner told stories about me, and she remembered every detail.”
Family involvement is key, said one parent who had two daughters go through Varner’s fourth-grade classroom.
“Carla also stresses the importance of family involvement,” she wrote, “encouraging family sysems to take an active role in their child’s learning process. Her classroom always had an open door policy and we were always welcomed and encouraged to help with activities. We very much appreciated the opportunity to participate and contribute.”
Varner also contributes to the community. She is active in the community as a 4-H leader, member, teacher and leader at El Dorado First Presbyterian Church and serving with her daughter’s school parent-teacher organization.