DHS icon retires from full-time teaching
Wall stepping back after quarter century in social studies classrooms
Karen Wall remembers when De Soto schools weren't quite so spacious.
Her first district teaching job was in 1983 at the overcrowded De Soto Junior High School, where there was no air conditioning and only a few skinny one-way staircases for the three-story school.
"When the bell would ring and you had to go from one class to another, I always described it as a moving sardine can," she said.
Wall has witnessed a lot of changes since then.
Now an award-winning social studies teacher at De Soto High School, Wall will officially retire at the end of this year. But even after a long and busy tenure as a full-time teacher, Wall isn't quite ready to leave the classroom altogether.
Wall's education-related activities and accolades are too numerous to list, but they include everything from state-level curriculum advising to playing piano for the school choir to coaching the quiz bowl team.
Wall won the Kansas regional teacher of the year award in 2000, making her a finalist for state teacher of the year. She was the first of five such district teachers so honored.
"That was a real highlight for me," she said.
She has since been a regional coordinator for the program and is also the Kansas Council of Social Studies secretary.
Wall has 25 total years teaching experience, including 21 in the De Soto district. She began teaching in the Shawnee Mission district in 1970, and then took several years off to raise two daughters before coming to De Soto.
Even after decades of teaching -- long enough to have had recent students and their parents in class -- Wall is still youthful in the classroom.
Last week at De Soto High School, she led a class discussion following a guest speaker.
"I always worry when I have these, are the kids getting anything out of these or not?" she said.
Students chatted back and forth with Wall about all they found interesting from speaker Carl Otto's shared experiences in World War II.
When one student raised his hand to report that Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" -- also the title of one of Wall's war history lessons -- number 41 of the VH1 "50 worst songs of all time," Wall didn't miss a beat.
She just tipped her head back and took a few moments to laugh with the rest of the class.
"It may be a bad musical song, but it's a good history lesson," she added, and easily steered the class back toward discussion of the Siegfried Line, death camps and soldiers' food rations.
Bill Gilhaus, former assistant superintendent of De Soto USD 232, was the principal at De Soto Junior High School when Wall began teaching there. Since then, the two have worked together in the district in many different ways.
"Karen Wall is probably one of the finest, most dedicated professionals I've ever had the pleasure to work with in my 25 years in education," Gilhaus said. "She truly is an advocate for students, and she understands the importance of the role a teacher can play in a child's life.
"Not only is she an outstanding professional, but I would be honored to consider her a friend."
Not quite ready to leave teaching for good, Wall will teach every other day next year.
In her spare time, she and her husband, Dean, plan to build a new house and do some short-trip traveling. Wall said she also hoped to do some education consulting.
After 11 years of inching along the hallways of the overcrowded junior high, Wall said the situation at De Soto High School, where she had worked since it opened in 1994, was "ideal" for a teacher.
De Soto High School has a spacious facility, small classes, a small student body, and few discipline problems. The staff was diverse and had leeway to get creative with their teaching, she said.
"This is like heaven in terms of teaching," she said. "And probably one reason I'm not ready to leave."