For 40 years, Kim Lum has said good-bye to one group of students in June and then prepared to welcome the next class in the fall. However, this year is different.
After teaching hundreds of students during a career that has spanned four decades, the 63-year old teacher says it’s time to retire. Lum is ready to spend time with her grandchild, take a road trip to Southern California and follow other pursuits.
Before taking her leave from the district this summer, she was bestowed with a special honor recognizing her as one of the best of the best in Kent County, feted with a retirement party and, undoubtedly, showered with well-wishes from parents, staff and former students alike.
Career Spent in Lowell
Lum was 23-years old when she started teaching, and her career as an educator has been spent almost entirely in Lowell. “I think Lowell Area Schools is a great place for kids to go and learn,” she says.
In her early years, Lum bounced around between grades as needed. She’s taught kindergarten, 3rd grade and 4th grade at various times. However, she landed in the 2nd grade classroom in 1983 and has been there ever since.
Similarly, she could be found in various buildings throughout the years – teaching at Bushnell, Runciman and Alto – before finally ended up at Cherry Creek where she finished out her career this year.
Lum says the school district isn’t just a good place to learn but a good place to teach as well. “Lowell has always been really supportive of new ideas,” she says. Whenever she wanted to apply for grants for initiatives, such as an afterschool Nature’s Place program, administrators have always backed her efforts.
Witness to Educational Changes
Teaching for so long has given Lum a unique view of how education has evolved throughout the years. “There are a lot of things that have cycled around,” she says. Still, after 40 years, Lum says there is always something new to try in the classroom as technology advances and teaching techniques become refined.
At the start of her career, teachers needed to make many displays and teaching aids from scratch. “We were experts at creating and laminating,” Lum says.
Today, it’s easier to find ready-made materials or find an iPad app or computer program to help reinforce a lesson. While that technology has been a boon in some ways, media consumption by students can also a pose a challenge.
“One of the positives is that kids know the teachers don’t know everything,” Lum says. Although there is a downside to that as well. “One of the negatives is that kids know teachers don’t know everything,” she adds with a laugh.
Career Rich with Memories
Ask Lum about favorite memories, and she has a hard time selecting just one. Her students have run classroom businesses, watching monarch butterflies grow and put on special programs for Valentine’s Day.
She remembers taking a class of 4th graders to Grand Rapids in 1981 and says it was like letting them “see the world.” Along with the happy memories, Lum also remembers supporting students during difficult times, such as after the death of a parent.
However, Lum says the very best part of teaching is “seeing the lightbulbs go off.” She loves the excitement of students who finally make sense of a challenging lesson or who learn a new skill. “I promise that my kids will be better thinkers and world class readers,” Lum says.
Named a 2018 Teacher of the Year
After 40 years of dedicated service, it was only fitting that Lum should end her career by being named the 2018 Lower Elementary Teacher of the Year by the Kent County Education Association. Each year, the association recognizes public teachers who represent education at its finest.
“I was pretty amazed and honored and humbled,” Lum says.
It’s an honor rightly deserved, her colleagues and former students would say. For 40 years, the long-time teacher has cultivated a learning environment that encourages exploration, excitement and collaboration.
Now, it is time for Lum to turn the page on the story of her life and start a new chapter. As she enters retirement, her daily presence at Cherry Creek Elementary School will end, but her legacy will live in on in the students she has inspired.