“Why do I teach?” Proximity Learning teacher Kris Wedington said. She took a moment to remember her first French class. Standing in front of the classroom adorned in a Pendleton suit and beautiful high heels, her French teacher became the epitome of who Wedington wanted to become when she grew up.
“She was impeccably dressed and I said, ‘I want to be like her,’” Wedington said. “So I studied the language throughout high school and here I am today.”
Yet, no one ever encouraged Wedington to become that teacher she always wanted to be. Right out of high school, she followed the 60’s and 70’s mindset that told her she needed to get a good job to support herself and her family.
For 30 years she worked in factory work, fighting to move up in a male-dominated industry.
“I worked my way up and I had to fight because people didn't expect me to be able to do the job the way the man did,” Wedington said. “Whether it required strength or whether it required smarts and they just didn’t expect it.”
Wedington said that at the age of 19 or 20 she felt there was a distinct split in the factory between her and older men in their 40s and up.
“I had been told that I was taking a job away from a family or a family man,” Wedington said. “A lot of times there was harassment and no one really stuck up for you because it was a gray area. It was like if you are going to work here, get used to it.”
About 18 years into her work, Wedington was driving down the street as she listened to the noon news and found out that the plant she worked in was going to permanently close.
“I had already been taking a few classes because they paid for it and I didn’t really know which direction I was going to go in because I had a job, right?” Wedington said. “That very day I pulled right over, made a u-turn, went back to the college and I said, ‘Sign me up for secondary education.’”
For the next 12 years of working in the factory, Wedington moved to another state where she finished her education and began teaching. She taught during the day and then went to work for eight or nine hours.
When Wedington retired from the factory after 30 years, during that time she had also worked full-time and part-time in various school districts teaching French, German, Spanish, social studies and math.
“I moved to Florida and within eight months of moving here I saw a job,” Wedington said. “One class, one online class [for a] German Teacher … I took that class and within a month, six weeks I was full-time online and never looked back."
From her decades of experience working outside of the classroom, Wedington said she always tries to tell her students what life is like in the working world.
She said she often recalls a memory from a few years back when an old student walked up to her at the mall. He told her about his work and what he had been up to, but then took a moment to remark on the lessons she had taught him years ago.
“He stopped and he looked at me and he said, ‘I wanna tell you something.’” Wedington said. “‘You always tried to tell us the way it really was out in the world. Of course we didn’t want to listen.’ He said, ‘But you were right.’”
Wedington wants to be more than a person in a box on a computer screen for her students. If one of her students is dressed in a suit during class for a basketball game later that day, she will engage them by asking questions about the game.
“I pretend that I’m just like any other person in that school and I know exactly who that team is and I just learn on the fly about the kids, the school, the culture, the district, the state, whatever.” Wedington said. “And it works, it makes a difference.”
Similar to Wedington’s persistence to move up in the factory, she is equally determined when teaching online to figure out different ways she can build relationships with her students.
“You can connect online just as you do in a classroom,” Wedington said. “They just need to know you and that you’re a real person and that you care about them.”