Sharing a life-long love of learning
Teaching is exhausting, sometimes frustrating, awash with unnecessary paperwork, pointless meetings and standardized testing.
Nonetheless, ask any teacher and they’ll tell you that despite the many lows, it’s a job that provides some of the most rewarding moments of any professional life.
Just ask Louise Hammersmark, co-founder of Glenrock’s Kindergarten Circus, which originated in 1982 and has since grown to become a recognized tradition in the community, particularly among the younger tots.
“The first year it was nothing,” Louise said. “It was just a little thing we did in our classroom. It was a lot of fun, so we decided the next year we’d do it again.” And they did, and from there, it kept expanding to the point where they outgrew the kindergarten room and had to find a bigger venue.
“There were too many people coming,” Louise recalled. “Then other kids from the school wanted to come because they wanted to see who was playing ‘their’ part in the circus.”
That was 35 years ago, and this year once again, Grant Elementary will hold its annual rendition of the Kindergarten Circus, a cacophony of color and cuteness, thanks to this retired Glenrock kindergarten teacher, who originally brought the idea to Wyoming from a private school in Los Angeles where she used to teach. And, with help from her colleague, former kindergarten teacher Donna Teeples, the duo perfected the performance logistics together.
When Louise Hammersmark chose to spend the rest of her working life teaching the kindergarten children of Glenrock, this California transplant and daughter of a beekeeper, could not have realized the long-lasting impact both she and the circus would make on the children of a small rural Wyoming community.
Louise always wanted to be a teacher. There was never any other career that crossed her mind, and her early school experience as a student in a country school through eighth- grade sealed the deal.
“The teacher that I had I had for three years and I loved her,” Louise recalled with a smile. “She always made me feel good; she made me feel smart like I was this great little
girl who could do anything. After lunch every day she would read to us. That’s one of the things I think of is that room with her turning the pages of the book and all was quiet...It felt so comfortable and good and safe.”
It was then that Louise realized the impact a teacher could have on a student’s life.
“After that I liked school because she instilled that in me,” Louise laughed. “And after being in school for a while I thought ‘I’d like to stay in school.”
Growing up on a small farm on the Arizona-California border, rural teaching was in Louise’s DNA. And, after teaching different grades, Louise found herself teaching in a private school in California.
Until fate intervened.
One night, she went to dinner in Los Angeles with a group of friends to celebrate a shared birthday week. A friend brought his brother Harold from Montana along. After a few dates, Harold and Louise were a couple. And when Harold found work in Wyoming, the couple moved to Glenrock where they were married at the Community Baptist Church.
Louise taught kindergarten in Glenrock for 20 years. During that time, her natural tendency to be outspoken, determined and put the children first would have got less experienced and capable teachers into hot water. But not Louise.
Working with Donna Teeples until she retired and standing up to budget cuts and pointless policies, Louise became a fixture of Grant Elementary, setting batch after batch of new learners on a
solid foundation and with a love of school.
“They are so full of joy. Everything is exciting and happy,” she said. “You could pick out some little activity something ordinary and they think it’s just wonderful; to see that joy of learning in their faces. When they get something, when they realized they’ve learned something, when they realize how much they know. It’s wonderful.”
Like most teachers, Louise had to face both the highs and lows of watching her students grow and adapt to life. It never got any easier to know that some of her students had tough home lives, but Louise, like all teachers, did her best to give all of her students the tools they needed to succeed.
Sometimes those tools were nothing more than a kind word of praise or a smile and a hug to boost their confidence when they felt they weren’t worthy of any.
“The little kids need you,” she said firmly. “They really do need you. And a lot of them, especially those with tough homes really need you.”
Working in the Glenrock school system for two decades, Louise experienced lots of changes in state educational benchmarks, school policies, teaching methodologies and the usual amount of experimental teaching concepts that blanket a classroom for a couple of years and are gone as fast as they arrived.
Throughout it all, Louise managed to retain the good and ignore the bad, instinctively knowing what was best for her students.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. I know what works,” she said, recalling her teaching days. “I will do this but I will also do this. But I will also do this because I know it works for certain people.
“One of the things that was always important to me was when you taught you taught it every way that children learn. Somewhere along the line hopefully you’ll pick that child up to learn.”
Although the benchmarks may have changed and the math rubrics altered, Louise believes it is the teacher who makes the difference not the source material. She also believes that folks should only consider a career in teaching if they are doing it for the right reasons, which don’t include money.
“If you want to be a teacher because you want to make money, forget it,” she said.
“If you want to be a teacher because you think they get a lot of holidays and time off, forget it. If you love children and want to be with them and help them learn, then be a teacher. There are a lot of rewards in it but it’s hard work.”
As this year’s Kindergarten Circus quickly approaches, the current kindergarten teachers will be sorting the costumes and helping the children learn their parts.
It’s a moment, as Louise knows, that will stick with these students forever.
“They never forget what they were,” she says fondly. “For some kids, it’s the biggest accomplishment of their life so far, to have the courage to go out there and perform. It teaches them they can get out there and they can do that. It’s a very valuable thing.”
This year, as in years past, among the costume fittings and the line learning, someone will get out the banner that sits on stage throughout the performance.
You know the one I mean. It’s the one that sits to the left of the ringmaster and explains that the circus is dedicated to its founders, Donna Teeples and Louise Hammersmark, teachers making
Glenrock kids and their parents.