Teaching where they were taught

Teachers who have returned to teach at their old high school


Photo used with permission by Kristen LaJeunesse


By Caroline Sun, Lake Zurich High School

“Once I graduate, I’m never coming back here again,” is a phrase commonly heard amongst students whose senioritis is hitting them hard in their last semester of high school. But while some students follow up on their word and never set foot in the halls of LZHS again after their graduation, there are a few who will return to take the places of their former teachers.

Jen Schmitz, 1997 graduate and English Teacher

Although Schmitz says that she never imagined she would be back to teach at her high school only four years after she graduated, she admits that she had always known she would return to LZ.

“I do know people that planned on leaving, they wanted to get out, they wanted to go away from Lake Zurich because it’s boring, according to everyone in high school,” Schmitz said, laughing, “But I never felt that way. I wanted to be here. My parents are still in Lake Zurich, my extended family [and] lot of my friends are here [so I] never thought about living in a different part of the country or even living in a different part of the state.”

For Schmitz, getting to teach at her old high school was just a perk of returning to her hometown, as “a lot of my teachers were still here so I didn’t have to learn a whole new staff or a whole new building since this place already felt like home.”

This feeling can be attributed to her many high school memories of being in the school, says Schmitz, who had been on Student Council and the Poms team, and vividly recalls “decorating for dances and stuff, and preparing for the homecoming assemblies.”

But stepping into the hallways as a teacher, rather than a student, was still a major change for Schmitz, at least for the first couple of years.

“It was weird at first calling my teachers by their first names, and also unusual to all of the sudden be teaching kids that I knew when they were really young and now are in my classes,” Schmitz said. “Like, my best friend’s younger brother was here my first year [of teaching] so we kind of had an [unwritten] agreement where I didn’t chaperone dances because, you know, he didn’t want his sister’s best friend who’s known him since he was two, hovering around.”

While many of the things around her have changed drastically, from her role at the high school to the building itself, Schmitz says that there are other things that haven’t changed at all.

“Friends and family are still the most important things to me and this school has had a lot to do with that,” Schmitz said fondly, “This school is where I met my best friends [and] where I met my husband and now I’m happy to have it also as my career.”

Kristen LaJeunesse, 1999 graduate and Art teacher

If you were to pop your head into any of LZ’s art rooms now or in “‘99, oh so fine”, as Lajeunesse calls it, you would see her hard at work on her latest project, just twenty years apart.

Another one of LZ’s student-turned-teachers, Lajeunesse also says that she could not have predicted that she would be back to teach at the high school.

“I absolutely didn’t [think I would come back here]. My students here now are always like, “Oh Lake Zurich’s so boring, it’s the worst, I wanna get out here” and  I had those feelings too,” LaJeunesse admitted. “It was an opportunity for me to come here and teach and I embraced that opportunity, and for a while I did feel a little strange about it but I recall talking to my mom about it, and she just told me to grow where I was planted and so I did.”

For LaJeunesse, this seed was first planted when she took her first art classes at the high school.

“I was an athlete so I belonged to teams and I really had a sense of belonging there, but I also had a sense of belonging that was really different in the art department,” LaJeunesse said, reminiscing, “I had friends in my art classes that I don’t know if I would have met in any other social circle that I still have to this day. I was kind of painfully shy when I was in high school I wasn’t super comfortable communicating orally so I felt like my art gave me a voice.”

Her love of art and her compatible love of being around kids, says LaJeunesse, was what would lead to an interview with her former elementary art teacher, and eventually, a job at LZHS.

Just like Schmitz however, LaJeunesse says that she has also had her fair share of weird experiences since returning.

“I recall coming back for an Institute Day, and Mr. Kerkemeyer, my art teacher who actually wrote my letter of recommendation was in the cafeteria, and I was like, “Oh hey, Mr. Kerkemeyer,”” Lajeunesse said, “And he goes, “Call me Dave” [so that was] pretty wild. I also got stopped for my hall pass the first year I was teaching here from a former teacher of mine and I showed him my work keys, which were legit since I worked here now.”

But as strange as her initial experiences of teaching at her old high school were, LaJeunesse says that after eighteen cumulative years of growing with the school, she has no desire to leave.

“I love [my job], I absolutely love this school, and I think that because I went to high school here, I have a deeper connection to this school, to the community, and to this art program. We are so fortunate here to have everything we need and so much of what we want, like we are really a fortunate school.”

This story was originally published on Bear Facts on February 11, 2019.