Coming full circle: Rookie educator has classroom next to her first grade teacher at Woodland Elementary School

Grayslake native Claudia Kauck knew from a very young age what she wanted to do in life. Call it being a product of her environment.

Certainly, hard work and study were involved. But Kauck credits Sharon Cohen, her first and second grade teacher at Woodland Elementary School in Gurnee, with illuminating the path.

“She was just a great teacher. She's still a great teacher and mentor. I just knew I wanted to be a teacher after I had her,” said Kauck, who followed her dream and then some.

She landed her first teaching job as a first grade dual language teacher at Woodland Elementary in the classroom next door to Cohen. Circle complete.

“I kept in touch with her all the way through college and now, she teaches one door over,” Kauck said.

Kauck shared the story with the Woodland Elementary District 50 community during a recent podcast featuring teachers who attended as students and returned to the classroom in a different role.

Cohen responded in kind.

“She was one of those students that you knew would one day make a difference,” Cohen posted on Facebook. “Here we are now. I get to work next to this brilliant teacher that was once my little first grade student.”

There are four schools in District 50. A story that may have been limited to Woodland Elementary became better known April 8 during the second episode of Woodland Wildcast featuring four teachers who also were Woodland students.

“She was always on top of everything, Cohen said Monday. “You could tell she liked school.” Cohen has been at Woodland Elementary for 19 years and also taught Kauck's sister, Samantha.

“A lot of my students’ parents listened to it and emailed after,” Kauck said Monday. “It was nice.”

District 50 shares information in a weekly newsletter, website and social media but Superintendent Robert Machak was looking for a longer format. He and Brooke Hagstrom, communications manager, brainstormed ideas.

“We were looking for one more place to tell the story of the people who work at Woodland,” she said. They knew Kauck was a student but initially didn’t know about the Cohen connection.

Machak has held the post two years and made it a practice to meet in person with anyone who was hired after him.

After meeting first-year teachers Kauck and Brian Golwitzer, an eighth grade English language arts teacher, the idea for a second podcast took shape. They were joined by Margarita Castrejon, middle school Spanish language arts and Kim Kohler, fourth grade intermediate.

“I just thought it was the coolest thing that each of them has gone through our program as a student and now are coming back as educators,” Machak said in the introduction.

“I always knew I was going to teach around here,” said Kaulk, who student taught in Grayslake.

Cohen said she would reach out to Kaulk’s parents to see how the sisters were doing and also has kept in touch with other students over the years.

“You just want to see how they grow and what they turn out to be,” she said. “We keep those friendships for a long time.”

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