Christine Kiphart retires after 11 years of teaching at Westridge
To this day, I can still distinctly remember details about Ms. Kiphart’s 6th-grade Humanities classroom. I remember the Hoberman spheres that sat piled in the empty fish tank upon colorful gravel by the window. I remember the paper leaves that hung from twine down from the ceiling, showcasing the books that my peers and I read throughout the year. I remember her graceful, perfectly loopy cursive handwriting that was either written in chalk on the board or on paper with a #2 pencil. More than anything, I remember how her classroom acted as a safe haven for me, a place where I could find her calm and comforting presence as she sat by her desk in the corner where I would go if something was troubling me or I just needed someone to talk to. Whenever I now find myself on Ranney Court, I walk by her classroom, and can’t help but smile when I think of the afternoons I spent chatting with her when I was younger.
Out of everything that I did in 6th grade, the Wax Museum was the most memorable and formative experience for me. My fascination with animals at the time prompted me to pick Dian Fossey to portray as my “courageous woman.” I was shy and lacked confidence, so the idea of performing in front of people truly terrified me, and I made my hesitation clear to Ms. Kiphart from the start. Not only was I reserved and lacked confidence; I was also a perfectionist, and the thought that I might not automatically be great at acting was admittedly hard for me to accept. Ms. Kiphart always reminded me that I could, and should, make mistakes.
Now on the eve of her retirement, as Ms. Kiphart and I reminisced on my experience with the Wax Museum, she commented on how that experience impacted her as a teacher. “[I have] an awareness of how much personal work I did on myself as a teacher of girls and young women,” she said. “That so many of the lessons that I needed to hear were the things that I was telling you. Every time I said, ‘It’s okay if it’s not perfect the first time,’ to come to that realization, that was a message I was teaching myself as much as I was teaching you. That was a really beautiful thing.”
Here she was, an adult, an authority, who did not see herself as just an authority figure, but rather as someone who provided education to her students while also being open to learning herself. As much as other students and I learned from Ms. Kiphart, she equally learned from her students. Ms. Kiphart believes that authentic learning can never truly be one-sided. “As teachers, I think the best work that we do is when we actually do ourselves what we tell our students because then it is an exchange. Then it is truly authentic learning. No one of us learns by ourselves. That’s not the way it works in life, and it doesn’t work that way in schools either. I think that the students were my teachers. The students were my mentors. The students were my guiding lights.”
After an extensive 30-year teaching career, 11 of those years at Westridge teaching both Social Studies and English, Christine Kiphart will retire at the end of this school year. She hopes to continue with her creative pursuits, and I have no doubt she will continue to be a guiding light to many more people.