Benefield Elementary teacher Hye Eun talks with her students this week, including Kassandra Andaya, left. Last year, Eun, a native of Korea, inherited the classroom of her former third-grade teacher, Sherrie Kinsler, who retired, but teaches at Benefield as a long-term substitute. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
LAWRENCEVILLE — Never in a “million years” would Sherrie Kinsler leave her students midway through the school year. And if for some reason she did, who would would take over for her?
That became a reality last year when teachers’ pensions changed, and Kinsler moved up her retirement plans about six months from the original May date. When Principal Melissa Walker informed Kinsler of her plans for a replacement, she exhaled.
The new third-grade teacher at Benefield Elementary was Hye Eun, who 14 years ago came to Kinsler’s class after her family migrated from Korea.
“I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” Kinsler said was her first thought about retiring during the middle of the school year after more than 27 years at Benefield and 34-plus in education. “But once I found out she was taking my place, I was like, ‘All right, that takes the pressure off.’ Because I knew they were going to be in good hands. It was different last year, because I kept calling that class my class and I had to quit doing that.”
Searching through a tough job market following graduation from Georgia State University, Eun joined Benefield on a part-time basis as a support teacher.
The school appealed to her because it was her first school in America, and she came to Kinsler’s class before she spoke a word of English. It helped that on Eun’s first day there as a student that another student from Korea also joined Kinsler’s class.
“I was so excited about everything,” Eun said of arriving at Benefield as a student. “When I first walked into Mrs. Kinsler’s room, everyone was so welcoming. They were so willing to help out, I didn’t feel left out.”
Kinsler said the language barrier didn’t stop the other students from communicating with Eun and their other Korean classmate, Samuel. It also didn’t take long for Eun to excel in the classroom.
“They really take them in and help them so much,” Kinsler said. “This is where the book bags go, this is where you do this, this is where you get this. They couldn’t communicate back to me, but they understood what to do, and when I would give directions, they would shake their heads. From coming in and not knowing the language and culture, (she) was a sponge. Everything went in, and she was one of the top students probably by the end of the year.”
Eun, who went on to Berkmar High and the University of Georgia before transferring to Georgia State, initially began a career pursuit in the pharmaceutical field.
“As I started taking more education courses, and started doing my internship, I realized I really like it, I enjoy it,” she said.
When Eun took over the classroom, Kinsler left materials and supplies, which prevented Eun from having to buy anything on her own. Kinsler also showed Eun the importance of organization around the classroom, which translates to more focused students.
“If your room’s not piled up, your kids see that your room’s neat and things are good for you, they tend to do better,” Kinsler said. “If things are falling out of a desk, and everything is disheveled, it’s hard for them to learn that way.”
Because Kinsler has returned to Benefield as a long-term substitute — “I have the best of both worlds, really,” she said — she’s available for Eun to use as a sounding board.
“Sometimes we have difficult days,” Eun said. “Sometimes just talking makes you feel better.”
And she feels fortunate to land at her first school in America.
“I love teaching and really like this school,” Eun said. “It’s special to me because I went here.”