Heather Kurut

Middle School Principal; Middle & Upper School Chorus

hkurut@morganparkacademy.org
At MPA since 2002
Potsdam College – B.A.
Illinois State University – M.F.A.
State University of New York – M.A.

Q&A

What do you enjoy most about teaching?
There is a moment that is sometimes hard to define unless you have seen it: that moment when a student “gets it.” It could be a concept that a student has struggled to understand, or an acting moment that suddenly feels right, or an intricate or dissonant harmony that seemed impossible at one time. Those kinds of moments are tremendously gratifying for teachers.

Why did you choose to teach at Morgan Park Academy?
I tell this story pretty often because I think it’s a perfect example of things not always being as they seem. I came from a college teaching background and had every intention of returning to that after completing my second Master’s degree. Much to my dismay, theatre teaching jobs at the college level were rapidly disappearing in a changing economy. I answered an ad for a part-time drama teacher at Morgan Park Academy.

The job description intrigued me, but the prospect of teaching Middle School terrified me. I had loathed Middle School as a student. My grand plan was to take the job for one year and continue to search for college positions. That was eleven years ago.

In my first year, way back in 2002, I found that my own Middle School experiences made me well-suited to teach that level. I remembered what it was I didn’t like and made every effort to effect a change in my classroom. My mantra was “If I can make one kid’s life a little bit better, for 42 minutes, one time, then I have achieved something.” I am thrilled to get to work with that on a larger scale now as the Dean of Middle School.

Who are your mentors?
In elementary school, my favorite teacher was Mrs. Briggs, my strict yet loving fourth-grade social studies teacher. Mrs. Briggs encouraged each of us to pursue things we were passionate about, and she had very high expectations of each of us. While her class was admittedly not my favorite, she recognized my interest in theatre and cast me in my first “real” role, and she helped me start a stamp collecting club.

My favorite high school teacher, Mr. Fleischer, was my Chorus teacher. He passed away last year, and I went home to New York for the memorial. Turns out he was the favorite of many of us, and for the same reasons: he expected us to work hard, had seemingly impossible high standards, and got to know each of us as individuals. He praised us when we deserved it, and talked us through it when we failed.

In college, I was surprised to find how much I loved a class that I dreaded having to take: Native American History and Politics. While I was interested in the history aspect, I feared the political subject matter. The professor, Dr. DelGuidice, was so fired up about the subject that we, the students, couldn’t help but become impassioned, too. Like Mrs. Briggs and Mr. Fleischer, he also demanded a solid work ethic.

My greatest teaching influence, though, has to be the history and English teacher I grew up with: my mom. We continue to have great discussions about teaching. When I was a college student, I used to go help out in her classroom while on break. From my mom, I learned to recognize each and every student as an individual, and that there is no such thing as a “bad kid.” At times, there is behavior that needs to be corrected, but every student is worthy of love and respect.

What are some of your interests and hobbies?
As both an Arts teacher and a Health teacher, I think it’s very important to practice what I preach and to stay active in my fields. I love to sing, both with my church choir and in other venues, and I crochet, sew, draw, paint and do beadwork. I both teach and practice Yoga, and my husband and I swim, hike, and walk together. I have completed the 39-mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer twice. While at home, I like to spend time on my gardens and I am committed to a chemical-free vegetable garden… which means that our neighborhood bunnies have a free and bountiful buffet. I am a lifelong baseball fan, with a particular affinity for my beloved New York Yankees. Somehow, my die-hard White Sox-fan husband and I make it work, even as we attend all of the Yankees-White Sox games in Chicago each year.