DIXON – If it’s taught at Dixon High School, Kim Munson knows it.
Her special education students sometimes can’t grasp everything they learn in a traditional classroom, and they spend the last part of their school day in Munson’s first-floor room getting help with what they need.
They’ll sit in a group, each with a different subject in view on their Chromebook: United States history, geometry, algebra, biology, chemistry and civics, as an example from a recent group of six students.
Munson, 48, has been at the high school long enough to know a little bit of everything, and her skill at passing that knowledge on to students one after another is just one of the reasons she’s January’s recipient of Sauk Valley Media and KSB Hospital’s Dixon Amazing Teachers Award.
“At the high school age, it’s good to know that you’re hopefully setting them up to be productive citizens,” Munson said. “I like to dig into these kids and their home lives and figure out what’s going on to cause them to behave the way they are, and how I can help that.”
Her students enjoy having that help, especially in a good-mood atmosphere where students can act their age and have fun, junior Kali Boswell said.
Kali is trying to get a grasp of the definition of significant figures in measurements, and what zeros in a decimal are.
“I’m not really good at math, but she helps me get through it,” Kali said. “I really appreciate it.”
One question down, and Munson is off to the next student in her group.
Abigail Mayers-Brown couldn’t have passed freshman biology without Munson’s help, she said. This year, geometry and civics have proven to be a challenge, and directions can be tough to understand for the sophomore.
In a recent lesson about the Fifth Amendment, Munson helped Abigail by reading the text of the lesson to her – the right to a grand jury, no double jeopardy or self-incrimination – and having her highlight the sentences that led to her finding the answer.
“She puts it in a different way,” Abigail said. “It makes me understand it more.”
Moving along, sophomore Trey Scheidegger has a table of periodic elements in front of him with plenty of numbers and significant figures in each square. ‘H’ for hydrogen, ‘Au’ for gold? What makes up salt?
“She’s kind, respectful and willing to help anyone,” Trey said.
Munson, a native of Steward, grew up wanting to help as many people as she could and teaching was something she determined early in life that she wanted to do.
She would have been bored if her only job was to stand and present content, though, and she never wanted to teach anything other than special education, she said.
She deals with students with learning disabilities, autism, emotional disturbances such as bipolar disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia, and health impairments such as diabetes.
Some have individualized education plans that put them on a 5-year track, and when Munson first started at Dixon High 26 years ago, she was 22 while some of her students were 20.
“The disadvantage of being that young is trying to get them to take you seriously when you’re that close in age,” she said. “As long as the kids know you’re real, they don’t care what you know until they know you care.”
Munson moved to Reagan Middle School for 5 years before coming back to the high school 3 years ago. Principal Michael Grady was looking for a special education teacher and wanted her to come back.
“One can tell from talking to her that she cares about kids,” Grady said. “She’s excited about helping them and seeing that they are successful. All of the cliches that you can say about a teacher, that’s what she is.”
Munson’s advice and guidance don’t help special education students alone. Traditional students in classes in which Munson serves as an aide also come to her for homework help, including her daughter, Madalyn, a sophomore.
Munson’s been married to Jeff for 25 years, and has seen her son, Evan, and daughter, Kaelyn, come and go from Dixon High and Reagan.
By the time she thinks about retirement, she may see a third generation of students.
“I just want to help anyone that is struggling in whatever way,” she said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful career. I’m glad that it worked out that way.”
How amazing is your teacher?
Do you know an amazing teacher at Dixon Public Schools, St. Anne Elementary or St. Mary Elementary? Nominate him or her for the Dixon’s Amazing Teachers monthly contest.
Nominations for January will be accepted from Monday to Feb. 24. Four finalists will be chosen for a vote until March 2.
Go to saukvalley.secondstreetapp.com/dixonamazing to vote or for more information.