A Living Example of Community Service, Laura Kristek Nurtures a Martial Arts Community at Kilmer Elementary

Every child is listening. Every face is turned toward the teacher. I have never seen a class more clearly excited about doing Taekwon-Do. Their instructor, Laura Kristek, is a nationally certified Special Education instructor at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Chicago. After a full day of teaching, when the last buzzer sounds, she races to the gym to set up and change, becoming a Taekwon-Do instructor.

At the heart of Taekwon-do, is the junior-senior relationship. Just as we are nurtured by our instructor and senior students, we help and guide our juniors. Even now as I talk to her, the senior belts are leading their juniors in warm-ups.

“Charyot (attention), Kyong Ye (bow)” The children all face the flags and bow in to begin class. Asked why she likes Taekwon-Do, she talks about her personal relationship with it. “I know when I’ve been neglecting Taekwon-Do. I know when I’ve been giving it time. See, rewards take work.” She doesn’t talk about herself very much before segueing back to the children. “I like to give the kids opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

She really enjoys teaching at Kilmer because of the amazing administration, staff, and fellow teachers, but she admits it’s not always easy. “We’re challenged with needing to be flexible. It’s all very dynamic.”

Ms. Kristek’s love of teaching and Taekwon-do is reflected in her students. They literally can’t wait to do Taekwon-do. It’s easy to believe that studying this martial art helps these kids. I was more surprised though when she said “These kids are so well behaved. I am told there are some who have significant discipline problems outside of this class, but they’re so responsive here, I didn’t know.”

She returns to the idea of having a personal relationship with Taekwon-Do. “When I don’t do it, I miss it, like I would miss a person.”

I observe one girl’s spirit as she punches a bag, I don’t doubt these kids would miss it, too.”

As class comes to a close, the children face the flags again to bow and then face Ms. Kristek herself.

“Charyot, Kyong Ye”

Rachel Jacobs is a freelance writer, mother and First Degree Black Belt in Taekwon-do.