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English Teacher Finds Creative Ways to Engage Classes

October 11, 2022


Stopping to smell the flowers, Estelle the guinea pig stands between two flower arrangements. English teacher Kim Vidrine has been bringing her guinea pig to school since the start of the last school year. “[Having Estelle at school has] been a lot of fun for me,” Vidrine said. “I love having her here, and I like that she hears voices all day and sees people. A couple of weeks ago I posted [on Instagram] a book talk as if Estelle were doing it. I’m going to start using her Instagram page as a way to do book recommendations for followers.” (Photo Courtesy of Kim Vidrine)

Her morning begins like the average student, she wakes up, brushes her teeth and grabs her English homework from the night before. She puts on a flowery dress and red lipstick, packs up her guinea pig into a Louis Vuitton bag, slings it onto her tattooed shoulders and drives herself to school, where she unlocks her classroom door and readies herself for first period.

English teacher Kim Vidrine has a teaching style and classroom environment that often stands out to students, whether or not they take her class. Her class pet is a guinea pig and she has tattoos that peer out from under the ruffled sleeves of the vibrant dresses she wears nearly every day. And, as unusual as it is for a teacher, every homework assignment she gives out is one she does for homework too.

“Many years ago, I taught the novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’ and my students throughout the course of the book created a scrapbook for one of the characters,” Vidrine said. “It could be from the perspective of any character they chose. I realized there were a lot of things I hadn’t thought of that I needed to put in the instructions, like how to present it. I [made my own scrapbook], and realized so much about the practice of assigning work to students.”

Doing homework along with students also gives her a chance to better understand what her students are working on each day, Vidrine said, which is helpful to her as a teacher.

“It gives me the same experience that [my students] are going through and what feels hard about it,” Vidrine said. “That kind of changed the way I thought about my work as a teacher; not just assigning the work, but making sure that it’s doable and it makes sense, and that I experience the same highs and lows in doing the work that my students do.”

Now she does the assignments with her students for other reasons, as she’s already improved any unclear homework instructions over her past 17 years of doing homework with students.

“I don’t really need to do every assignment anymore, because I’ve done all of them now,” Vidrine said. “Now I do it more as just a show of solidarity. I want my students to know that I want you to be a writer for your life. I too, am a writer for my life, and am still creating. In terms of the reason I originally started, which was to see which things needed to be clarified in an assignment, I’ve pretty much gotten that figured out now.”

This past month, students in Vidrine’s classes made a picture book for their first project of the year. The picture book had to be 16 pages and could be about anything.

Twinning for Twinday, Vidrine and Estelle wear matching outfits. Estelle’s Instagram caption was “Today was #twinday at school and OF COURSE the human wanted to match me.” (Photo courtesy of Kim Vidrine)

“My picture book for me this year was so stressful,” Vidrine said. “So stressful. There was so much [to do, but] it was good for me to experience that, to be reminded that it’s hard. I’m asking you to do something that’s difficult. If it’s done well, it’s hard.”

Students have told Vidrine that they appreciate the time she takes to do the homework assignments with her classes, and Vidrine said she thinks the relationship she has with students is better having done the homework each night with them.

“I hope it earns me some ‘street cred,’” Vidrine said. “I’m not asking you to do something I wouldn’t do. [Doing the homework I assign is] something that makes me empathize, and I think that’s important. There’s solidarity in that.”

Vidrine said she tries to keep homework requirements reasonable for students, and takes into consideration her advantages when doing high school work.

“I try to keep it realistic,” Vidrine said. “I’ve already been to college; I already have a degree. Maybe I can do a [homework assignment] faster than you guys. I don’t know [if] that’s true, but I try to think about that. It helps that I’m also doing [the homework] to know what it is requiring of my students.”

The difficulty of homework assignments depends, Vidrine said, and so does the amount of time it takes her to complete them.

“Some [assignments] I’ve done really quickly, but others take a lot more time,” Vidrine said. “It depends on the size of the assignment and what it is. [Doing the homework also] probably affects how clean my house is and how dirty the laundry is, because I’m doing school stuff. I’m a person who’s willing to let some dishes pile up if I’m feeling school and my teaching is needing a little more attention.”

Student teachers who have taught under Vidrine were required to do the homework assignments, but she doesn’t know how many of them continued to do it in their careers in education.

“I thought they needed the experience of having to create what you’re requiring people to do,” Vidrine said. “I think of it as a person in the government, who sits in Congress and makes laws that they don’t ever see the effects of. You need to be on the ground, seeing how the decisions you make affect people. You need to experience it. As the teacher, I can hand out assignments all day, and not have a good understanding of how they affect the [students]. I need to feel what that’s like.”

At the end of each school year, Vidrine’s students are given a feedback form to fill out so she can get input on how their year was in her class.

“One of the questions is always ‘how much work did this class require for you?’” Vidrine said. “A lot of what I get from students is that it was a lot of work, but because it is directly preparing you for a college-level course, it felt good to understand that you’re not going home every day and having nothing to do [for homework].”

Vidrine said teaching hasn’t always been a success story for her, and when she first started teaching high school at the age of 21, she faced a lot of challenges that almost made her switch professions.

“[During] my very first year of teaching, I was terrible,” Vidrine said. “I was so bad [at teaching]. My principal that year hated me so much. He was so mean to me. There was [one faculty] meeting that I will never forget; I cried and cried. He destroyed me in that meeting. It was awful criticism without any support. It is a miracle that I did not walk out of there and decide teaching [was] not for me.”

She often thinks about what happened at her first job, Vidrine said, and what she would say to her former principal if she saw him now.

“I would like to go to him now and say ‘you should see what I do,’” Vidrine said. “And to be honest, see how good I am. Because I do think I really am good at what I do. [He] look[ed] at someone when they [were] the caterpillar [and] that’s all [he saw]. [He] missed how you could help turn [the caterpillar] into a butterfly. Luckily, I was not dependent on [him] to turn me into [my] butterfly.”

Estelle, the class pet, whose Instagram handle is @estelletheguineapig, is a 2-and-a-half year old emotional support animal licensed under Vidrine. She got Estelle as a way to encourage students to do their work in class.

“When I originally got her, I was picturing her as being an incentive to get students to do things,” Vidrine said. “[For example,] if everybody got a book finished by the first six weeks, Estelle [would] wear a guinea pig taco costume for a whole week. But I haven’t ever used [her] like that, because I [don’t] feel great about that, and then she has to wear a taco costume, which she probably doesn’t want to do. Although, she is going to for Halloween.”

Vidrine bought Estelle in May of 2020, when school had just shut down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I hope it earns me some ‘street cred.’ I’m not asking you to do something I wouldn’t do. [Doing the homework I assign is] something that makes me empathize, and I think that’s important. There’s solidarity in that.

— Kim Vidrine

“I got her in May so I could make sure I knew how to take care of her [before] bring[ing] her to school to be the class pet,” Vidrine said. “I really thought the world was going to be normal again in August. That’s not really what happened.”

Estelle went to school every day of the 2020-2021 school year, where Vidrine started the guinea pig’s Instagram and built up her current following of 172 followers with 221 posts.

“A couple of weeks ago I posted a book talk as if Estelle were doing it,” Vidrine said. “I’m going to start using her Instagram page as a way to do book recommendations for followers.”

Estelle became an emotional support animal over the summer, after Vidrine’s house was robbed. She said one of her tattoos, which reads “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” was something that challenged her when thinking about the incident.

“I was having some difficulty dealing with my feelings about [getting robbed] and was getting anxious, so I started going to talk to a counselor about it,” Vidrine said. “[One session my counselor and I] were talking about things that brought me joy, and I said Estelle; as silly as it is, I really love having her. [My counselor] said maybe [Estelle] functioned as some emotional support for [me], and she filled out the documents so that Estelle could become my emotional support companion.”

Since then, Estelle has been present in class every day, and Vidrine said she’s thankful that everything worked out the way it did.

“It’s been a lot of fun for me,” Vidrine said. “I love having her here, and I like that she hears voices all day and sees people. It seems better for the animal to be socialized.”

Taking care of a guinea pig has been a learning experience, Vidrine said. She said she was surprised by much of Estelle’s behavior when she first got her, such as the fact that guinea pigs scream for food.

“From the minute I wake up in the morning, when she hears me, she is making noise,” Vidrine said. “[Guinea pigs] are so bratty about food all the time. It’s weird, because she doesn’t make very much noise at school. Now, if she hears me open the refrigerator, she usually makes a little bit of noise, because she knows that’s where the food is.”

To keep Estelle busy, Vidrine slips her carrots throughout the day, which she pushes through the wire cover her husband made that attaches to the shelf submerged in cabinets that Estelle lives in during the day. 

“She understands that she can’t go off the edge of this [shelf ledge] anyway,” Vidrine said. “She understands falling. But [the wire cover] keeps kids from being tempted to put their hands in there.”

After school, Vidrine takes Estelle home every day to run around on the floor and play with toys and tunnels, but occasionally they have to run a few errands before bedtime, when Estelle travels in the knock-off Louis Vuitton bag that a student gave her as a gift.

“We call [it] the Cadillac bag,” Vidrine said. “Sometimes when school is over, and I need to go get my nails done, or go to the grocery store, she goes [with me] in the Louis Vuitton. She’s kind of a hit wherever she goes. People love her. How could you not?”


Dressed for Success

English Teacher Uses Colorful Dresses and Designs in Class


Holding her guinea pig, Vidrine dresses for Renaissance Day on Nov. 3, 2021. Instagram caption: “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and I am a #guinea pig.” (Photo Courtesy of Kim Vidrine)

English teacher Kim Vidrine uses a variety of ways to express herself – and that includes school outfits like dresses and skirts, which she said are her favorite things to wear.

“I am kind of obsessed with clothes,” Vidrine said. “Probably to a fault, although I don’t know who it really hurts. I love clothes, especially dresses and skirts, and I try to wear [either one] every single day. Occasionally on Friday I’ll wear pants, and very occasionally I’ll wear jeans, but I love to wear dresses.”

Her closet holds around 200 dresses, Vidrine said, and she never wears the same clothes more than once all year.

“I have a lot of dresses,” Vidrine said. “Like, a lot. It’s kind of embarrassing. I don’t ever wear the same dress a single day of the school year. I have so many that I love, and if I’m wearing one that I’ve already worn, then there’s one that’s not getting worn. I want to wear them all! And I keep track. They hang on [one] side of the closet, and once I’ve worn them they move to [the other] side of the closet.”

Fashion is fun for her, Vidrine said, and likes to express herself through the clothes that she wears.

“One time my daughters told me that my clothes [have a] ‘quirky librarian meets vintage housewife’ aesthetic,” Vidrine said. “And that’s probably true. [My clothes are] kind of like writing that I am doing. [They’re] presenting a text about myself. You read this text that I am composing and creating, [and] make inferences about [it].”

Another way Vidrine tries to get students involved in her classroom is her tattoos, which come from a system she has in place to allow kids to nominate potential tattoo designs. The idea came to her after she got an award at her high school class reunion in Louisiana for the “least tattooed member from the class of 1988.”

“I had been reading this book with my students that I thought there were all these really great, thoughtful lines in,” Vidrine said. “I would say [to my students] ‘y’all, don’t you see how magical this sentence is?’ And they would go ‘eh, it’s fine.’ As I was driving [home from my reunion], and thinking about the tattoo thing, I wonder[ed] if it would give them a reason to dig into a book and look for those kinds of lines if I made a deal with them.”

The deal was that if students were to pay attention and keep an eye out for memorable lines in the texts they read, then they could select these lines as possible tattoos that Vidrine would get.

“All year, I encourage students, when they’re reading, [to] keep your eyes open for these beautiful, elegant lines and phrases that you could take out of the book and they would still have meaning,” Vidrine said. “You put [the lines you find] in [a] jar, and at the end of the year, I’ll pick five of them [from the jar] and you can vote [which one] I’ll get as a tattoo.”

Students were doubtful that Vidrine would really get a tattoo, she said, so when she appeared with her first one on the last week of school in 2019, when she started this tradition, many were surprised.

“[My students] were pretty shocked,” Vidrine said. “I don’t think they believed me. They were amazed that I had done that. I’m going to have to quit teaching before I look like Post Malone.”

Vidrine’s husband was against the tattoo idea at first, Vidrine said, so it took a lot of convincing to get him on her side.

“My husband is not a tattoo person,” Vidrine said. “I had a very hard time getting him on board with this idea. He majored in English in college, so he appreciates the beauty of a sentence or phrase. He just didn’t think his wife should have a bunch of tattoos. He is a hundred percent fine with it, but he was not a fan of it at first. My mom was very horrified; she is probably still a little horrified.”

Her tattoos are also intended to show students how much her year-long teaching and interactions with them mean to her.

“I hope that I leave a mark on you in the very real way that you leave a mark on me,” Vidrine said. “You physically leave a mark on me, but you certainly leave a mark on my heart. I hope that I can have the same effect on you. I’m not asking you to go get a tattoo about your year in English II advanced with Mrs. Vidrine, but I want you to see physically where my students leave a mark, and it’s my intention that happens on the inside of you.”

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About the Contributor
Photo of Kacey Miller
Kacey Miller, Editor-in-Chief

Kacey is a junior and third year reporter. She loves learning about her fellow students and writing about their stories. In addition to being a staff member for The Wolfpack, she is a UIL journalism competitor, the Cedar Park FFA Vice President and has a show lamb named Winnie. If she’s not at the barn or practicing for her FFA contests, she’s probably doing homework. You can find her at every football game, either in the stands or on the sidelines taking pictures. Some of her favorite memories are from reading the Bible with her little sisters. She plans to attend college somewhere cold, but also doesn’t want to be too far away from her family. Her favorite animal is a bear and sometimes she wishes she could hibernate like one.

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