SCHOOLS | March 21, 2022
Ms. Laurel Kulig says that one of the most memorable experiences of her teaching career took place not in a classroom, but rather in a restaurant.
“I was wearing my school gear while grabbing lunch on a Saturday, and a person in line bought my lunch because I was a teacher,” she said. “I tried to buy them a coffee on my way out to thank them back, and they asked me for my information. That ended up being the reason I received a gigantic grant for books for my school—all because a random stranger was kind to me.”
She has been teaching at CICS Northtown Academy for almost a decade, having done everything from instructional coaching to reviving the school’s theater program to teaching pre-AP prep classes in both English and Biology. Her busy schedule reflects a larger life philosophy: to do one thing a day to give to a community outside of her regular work.
At her school, Ms. Kulig is often known as the teacher who excels at creating community and friendly, comfortable learning environments. Her colleagues often come to her when they want to spice up a lesson or help their students connect with each other.
“Right now, I’m especially focused on healing and having my students build their stamina for being back at school,” she said. “Because of the events of the past few years, a lot of them do not feel like they are enough right now. This healing will restore their personal empowerment, their self-efficacy, and their understanding of themselves.”
Ms. Kulig knows that this process of healing won’t be the same for every student. She often tells her classes that someday, far from now, they may not remember her name or where they encountered her. But they’ll remember that she gave them something, and that thing is defined by them. It’s up to her to help each student understand that they are both already gifted and can also cultivate new gifts to positively impact the world.
“As an educator, you can only bear fruit if you take the time to nurture yourself,” she said. “You might have years that feel like you’re just hanging on, and it’s okay to recede in some areas that you’re used to overperforming in so that you can grow in other ways.”
She explains that she is encouraged to continue teaching knowing that there are other teachers doing the work right alongside her. This has created a deep sense of gratitude within her for the support system that has helped her get to where she is today.
“I believe that I am not here of my own volition. I am here because I’ve been shaped by parents and students and colleagues and bosses,” she said. “I’m just really grateful that I get to do what I love every day, and I get to be sustained by this incredible network of human beings.”
Ms. Kulig is one of the District’s 13 finalists for the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. At first, after a long day of teaching, theater rehearsal, and tutoring, she thought the 103 congratulatory notifications on her phone were early birthday wishes.