Manna Kettles recalls wanting to be a schoolteacher since the age of three. Her dream came true, as she's now a teacher with Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey® Circus.
The circus, in an all-new production, DRAGONS, comes to the Quicken Loans Arena, in Cleveland, October 17-22. Click here for tickets starting at $15.00.
A native of India, I talked with Kettles during a circus stop in Stockton, California. She reminisced about how her preschool years set the tone for her career path. "I was in a preschool in India and I can still remember this British lady in charge of the school. Even today, I can picture her doing the nursery rhymes. Never did I want to be anything else. I just love being with kids."
Among Kettles' students are the kids of circus Ringmaster Johnathan Iverson and his wife Priscilla. Here's my interview with the Ringmaster during the 2010 Cleveland tour.
On this circus tour, Kettles' students range from grades K-6 and one 10th grader. When she started working as a traveling teacher with Ringling Bros. eight years ago, she created her own lesson plans. Recalling those years, Kettles said laughing, "I was homework teacher, administrator and everything." Now she uses an established homeschooling curriculum.
Her students come from countries like Russia, Ireland, Mexico and Hungary. "I used to get kids who didn't know how to speak English. It's amazing to see how they grasp the language," Kettles said. "There was a little girl from Mexico; her face was so expressive. Once she learned English, I couldn't stop her from talking!"
Kettles said she embraces an old-school style of teaching, making sure children get the basics. "They call me Mrs. Kettles. I teach them to say Mr. and Mrs. They have to learn their classmates' first names."
That old-school approach, Kettles says is personal. "I have two sons of my own back in India. Being a single mom and bringing them up, I know I must have done a lot of things right." Teaching kids to properly address adults, Kettles says is important.
A typical day in the classroom for students
Kettles divides the class into two groups: ages 12 and up in one group; K-3 in the other. The older students are in school from noon-4:00 p.m. (Sounds like a schedule that some students I know would like)
Students in Kindergarten are in class 3:30-5:30 p.m. and grades 1-3 are in class from 4:00-8:00 p.m.
Kettles goes to class at least two hours before class begins, often working 10-hour days. It's a schedule she embraces. "I have to read everyone's lesson plan and know what they're doing everyday. It keeps the brain moving so fast. I love it. I'm always thinking of ways to make it better," she said with enthusiasm.
And when it comes to giving homework, Kettles says she's sensitive to the parent's schedule, since the shows are often weeknights. "I do not give homework on those days because the parents finish at 9:30 and all they want to do is crash." (On behalf of those parents--thank you, Mrs. Kettles)
The families aboard the circus train
A parent herself, Kettles knows how important it is for parents to be assured their children are in a safe and nurturing environment so parents can concentrate on their work. Speaking of Ringmaster Johnathan Iverson and his family, Kettles describes them in one word - AWESOME! "The circus provides good childcare, where parents don't have to worry about the education of their kids."
Some other families include: the general manager of the circus and the couple who owns the tigers. Kettles teaches their kids. "These are high performers and for them to come and stay 365 days on the road, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't do it if they didn't think their kids would get a good education."
Getting the traveling teacher job
With more than 20 years of teaching experience, Kettles said when she applied for the traveling teacher position with the circus, she got a call back within 20 minutes.
From India, Kettles has degrees in math, physics and chemistry. She's worked in education in India and Kuwait, as well as in the states--Washington, DC and Chicago.
Kettles moved to America in 2002 and began working with the circus two years later. She chronicles her life in a memoir titled Bent, yet unbroken. "Everyday I'm learning something because of all the different grades and subjects. It's SO rewarding to be a teacher for Ringling Bros."