1/31/2014 8:21:00 AM Kathy Illa is CFHS/MS teacher of the year
by Sue Sullivan
Having been voted Cannon Falls High School Teacher of the Year, Kathy Illa defines the honor as a "humbling experience. I have done nothing different than the other teachers," she said.
Kathy has been teaching Physical Education and Health for 22 years.
After graduating high school in Stewartville, her hometown, Kathy began her college education at St. Olaf College in Northfield, where she was in the women's choir during her freshman year.
She was born fourth in a family of five siblings and where both parents were teachers. So in college she was in a "breakaway mode." Yet, teaching seemed built in.
Considering dentistry as a profession, a volleyball coach approached her during her freshman year and asked Kathy to consider teaching.
She was always a water sports fan and had really begun "teaching" while a youth in Stewartville giving swim lessons at the community pool.
After college she began substitute teaching at Maplewood, Woodbury and Inver Grove Heights. "I subbed literally every day from the day I was hired," she explained.
Additionally, Illa returned to her alma mater to coach softball seven years at St. Olaf and volleyball for four years.
Kathy "loves" teaching. "Every day it's a new job," she asserts. Along with phy ed, Kathy currently coaches eighth grade volleyball and JV (junior varsity) girls basketball at the school.
"Things have changed over the years," she remembers. "We do various fitness activities now. When I was a kid we learned how to play sports spontaneously and got some of that conditioning just playing ouside with friends. Kids don't do that as much anymore and then don't always know how to play the various sports either."
When asked what age group she especially likes teaching, Illa answered, "All of them!" further explaining the age spectrum. "Sixth graders love to be active - it's their nature. Now that I've figured things out, I have taught freshmen for 14 years."
In her health classes Illa often brings in speakers to better help her class participants make good choices. One such speaker was a single young pregnant girl who explained to the class how choices made can cause hardships. She has also had college admissions personnel, and health care professionals who give her students an introduction to the many professions in the medical field. "There is always new 'stuff' both medical and technological to learn and to teach," she said.
She loves the ability to diversify as evidenced by her work with the school's music program in which she works. In fact, Cannon Falls Schools music director Sue Franke-Clark was one of the teachers who nominated Illa for the award because, "Kathy is a multi-talented teacher. She's very involved with students learning either as a coach, accompanist or teacher, and has a very positive attitude."
The other nominator was Elementary Phy Ed teacher Ross Peterson. His nomination stated, "Kathy is an excellent PE/Health teacher. She lines up outside speakers and instructors to come into her classroom and share their knowledge. On top of being outstanding in the classroom, she is a caring and motivational coach. Kathy also works closely with the music department, putting in many hours outside the school day. She is a positive role model."
Some of those "hours outside the school day" have been spent as she accompanied the last seven musicals. She also accompanies eight to 15 students for solo/ensembles and accompanies vocalists for special events such as Coronation or concerts.
Illa is also the MS/HS coordinator for Box Tops for Education, Milk Moola, and Labels for Education. She stresses that "anyone collecting those items can bring them to CFHS even if they no longer have an elementary student. We use the extra money to help supplement our supply budget."
Kathy lives in Cannon Falls with her husband Mark and seventh grade son Isaac.
Though she still likes water sports best, given a choice she prefers doing "outdoor things."
Kathy's high energy doesn't stop when she leaves school either. She teaches piano and currently has eight students, is active in her church choir, teaches Sunday School and works on various committees as needed.