Smith reflects on mothering, mentoring

Mother’s Day Spotlight

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Smith reflects on mothering, mentoringWelsh poet George Herbert said that “One good mother is worth a hundred schoolmasters.” But for some women, their life’s work is an intertwining of the two roles.

With two grown children, and a 39-year career in education coming to a close at the end of this term, Kirsti Smith reflected on the joys and challenges of motherhood and teaching — and how her personal and professional endeavors positively informed each other.

Kirsti and her husband Scott were married in 1980 and chose to move to Ridgecrest from Chico because they prefer small towns. Kirsti accepted a teaching position at Monroe School while her husband began a career at China Lake.

In 1989 the Smiths welcomed a daughter into their family. “Having children was also not our main goal — until we had one, and then we couldn’t wait for more,” said Kirsti. A son followed two years later.

“Our children have been the lights of our life and we could not have every expected such joy and fulfillment.”

The Smiths loved it here so much that “we made it our home and raised our amazing children here. Lots of ballet, soccer, dirt bike riding and so many other sports. The kids could ride their bikes to practices while I worked and Dad was on travel.”

As the Smith family matured, so did Kirsti’s career. She moved on to teach at Burroughs High School, where she later was promoted to dean of students. From there she served as principal of Vieweg and Inyokern. For the last 20 years, she has served as principal of Murray Middle School — an award-winning campus of high-achieving in students and staff alike.

“Being a parent has influenced my teaching style and leadership style in so many ways. I have become more compassionate and understanding of the student’s needs and concerns.”

Drawing from her own experience as a mother of a child with attention-deficit disorder, she came to understand the unique gifts and struggles of each individual child. “It takes so much effort to help our children succeed,” she said, recalling the hours spent each night helping her son keep focused and msking progress through homework.

Being an educator influenced her parenting style as well. “I talked to my children every evening, reminding them of their duty to be the best they could be, reminding them they have lots of choices but those choices could be limited if they didn’t work hard. I reminded them of life’s hazards and life’s rewards.”

Parenting can also be a difficult balancing act, she noted.

“Self esteem is a delicate thing. Always be careful in the words you use with your child – they can scar your child for life,” she said. But it’s also important to model honesty. “Be encouraging, but realistic. Demonstrate hard work, but moderate it as not everyone has the same energy level.”

Disciplining your children can also be tough, she noted. “We love them, we want them to love us and it is hard to keep consistent and not give in. Walking away from that crying child, getting in your car and driving to work breaks your heart.” But without fail, the childcare provider called to tell her the crying stopped as soon as she vanished from sight.

And sometimes, allowing your child to deal with conflict has a payoff later in life.

“Hearing your child tell you over and over how mean another child is breaks your heart but giving your child the words to use and the spine to turn away is rewarding and helps him become the strong man he is today. Our daughter said she is the leader at her work because of the mean girls she dealt with in her youth.

“We want to fight our children’s battles, but they grow so much more by doing it on their own.”

Finding the right mix of providing support while allowing for independence can also be tricky, she said. “I hope the level of independence we gave our children helped them to be the self-starters and responsible young adults they are today. They had to take responsibility for their actions — positive or negative — and figure out how to deal with the consequences.”

Kirsti credits the example her mother — also a teacher — set as her template for balancing career and children. “She expected nothing less than perfection from us as children, and I knew I had to give the same as an adult. There are no excuses, work hard, do your best, be kind and be understanding.”

Because her husband traveled often for his job, Kirsti made an adventure of her time on her own with the children. “We did splurge and have pizza nights and mom-kid slumber parties all together in our homemade fort. We stayed up late and had frappuccinos and even donuts for breakfast.”

When Scott returned home, Kirsti would sometimes go to school as early as 4 a.m. on Saturdays to catch up at work. “Dad would call at 9 a.m. to let me know the kids were up and the pancake breakfast was ready.” She would then jet home to enjoy the morning with her family.

“Having a career and a family is the ultimate, in my opinion. I love my kids and husband, and I love my school. I feel both have enriched my life so much. I am so thankful to have found being an educator as my lifelong profession.”

Her advice to other working mothers? “Always be there for your children. Put the phone away, listen to your children. Play with them, be creative and most importantly — let them know they are the light of your life.”

Pictured: Pictured from left are Smith’s son Kyle, Kirsti, parents Joe and Ann Kile, husband Scott and daughter Elise.

Story First Published: 2019-05-10