The Ensworth Grind

This week we have the privilege of introducing you to one of the “staples” of the Ensworth School, Cris Hempel. Instead of going into a long description of Cris, I will let her answers to the questions do the talking. So, without further delay…here we go!

Q: How long have you been teaching at Ensworth and what are some of the most significant changes you have seen while you have been here?

A: I have been teaching at Ensworth for 32 years. That seems impossible, as the years have flown by.

There have been so many changes during my time at Ensworth. A new dining hall, science wing, middle school, art spaces, Frist Hall, P1 wing, office spaces, and our wonderful new high school. The list goes on and on. Those physical changes are big and impressive looking. What hasn’t changed is what I appreciate the most. We continue to be a close community—students, faculty, and parents. Our work together on the students’ behalf is what unites us as a community and what I appreciate most about Ensworth.

Q: You obviously love your job and you are so great at it, tell us what makes you love it?

A: I do love being at Ensworth, though I have never considered what I do a job. Change the last letter of job to a ”y” and that’s what I feel about my time at Ensworth. Joy. It is true joy to watch eager, sometimes nervous, young children enter our school in August and magically, joyfully become part of our community. (I see this in parents as well.) It’s both exciting and touching to watch children grow, emotionally, socially and academically, but, most of all, I love to watch them embrace their places- our classroom, our school and our community.

My parish priest once said that his job was to make memories for his parishioners. That resonated with me and my work with children. Making memories is important. The memory can be learning to read or to write, or it can be a magic moment, like watching chicks hatch, building a sidewalk for a Habitat House, or teaching an 8th grader how to finger knit. Building positive, comfortable feelings about school, with both children and parents, is what make my job a joy.

Q: If you could be a fly on the wall of any classroom at Ensworth, whose would it be and why?

A: So many classrooms; too many choices. I could spend weeks visiting, appreciating and learning from my colleagues at all levels. I have visited many classrooms on our campuses, but two that I’ve not are Chris Champion and Brooks Corzine. I’m intrigued by Chris’ work in 4th grade. I’ve worked with Brooks in Cross Country and Track and so greatly appreciate his love of children, but I’ve never watched him work his magic teaching English.

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of the classroom?

A: Husband Rob and I enjoy sailing. We charter a boat in Newport, Rhode Island every summer.  We usually begin north and east to the tiny island of Cuttyhunk, where they have the very best chowder. Next is somewhere on Martha’s Vineyard and finally to Nantucket. Turning around we go south and west to Fishers Island and and Long Island. Just the two of us for three weeks.

I really, really enjoy working with fiber – spinning, knitting, crocheting, felting. I try to pass this passion on to my children. Former Ensworth colleagues, Colleen and Mustapha El Amri raise sheep, and this year I was fortunate to get a whole fleece from them. My children and I washed the wool, dyed it (with Kool-Aid), and carded it. We will soon be spinning it – drop spindles at first, and then a real spinning wheel.

Q: Daily you teach Ensworth’s youngest what will become the foundation of everything they learn, what is one of the biggest lessons you have learned over your time at Ensworth?

A: A wise parent once said to me, “The ABCs and the 123s are the easiest to teach.”  That makes sense to me. While I want my children to be readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and artists, and provide the structure for that to happen, I believe that children need time and space to dream, to explore and to create. It’s in those spaces and times where genuine learning for their future takes place.

I also feel that it’s important for children to know where things come from, and where those things will ultimately end up. The landfill? Let’s recycle. This brings in nature and learning about ones place. The more we know about our place, the more we care about it. The more we care about it, the more we care for it.

This leads into the bottom line – community. Creating our place in our community and feeling a part of it. Caring for and about each other. It’s important for our children to learn that, though they may be the youngest in our school community, they can make significant contributions to Ensworth as well as to our Nashville community. Great things come from these small people!

Q: Who is the next Devon Farms faculty that you would like to see profiled?

A: Going back to my roots and memories, I have to think about David Berry, an EHS English teacher and drama person extraordinaire. David was in my class in pre-first grade. Many years later he visited me, sat down in a particular spot and said, “This was where I sat when I tied my shoes for the very first time.” That’s a child’s memory that I will never forget.

Please pass this on to David, my former student, whose childhood memory has left me with a fond adult memory.

This entry was posted in Lower School, The Ensworth Grind. Bookmark the permalink.

75 Responses to The Ensworth Grind

  1. Trisha Elcan says:

    Cris asked me the other night if I had seen this contribution. I wasn’t sure what she was talking about so I googled it. In her answers, she captures so well the spirit of Ensworth that I often try to describe yet never do justice with my words. I wish every perspective family, teacher or administrator could read these answers from someone who has been around Ensworth longer than most of us yet still see every day as a fresh opportunity. Cris, thank you for sharing your many your gifts with our community past, present and future. I am continually amazed how you teach your students (and often parents) what community and compassion for others means.

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