Kelly Turner – Social Studies

Kate Ponnambalam

For Kelly Turner, the path to teaching started at a very young age. Her mother, who taught special education in elementary school, inspired Turner with her patience and dedication.

“I’ve always had a passion for teaching and kids, and through my mom, I knew that with special education you definitely have to be a very special person,” Turner said.

Since August, Turner has brought that passion to teaching social studies to third and fourth grade students in the Lower School.

Turner grew up the youngest of four children in the Dallas suburb of McKinney. As a dancer, she loved assisting younger students. Throughout high school, she tutored at a local elementary school. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma she earned her master’s degree at Southern Methodist University.

She began her teaching career in Norman, Oklahoma, teaching third grade at Washington Elementary School. After two years, she moved to Casady School, a private K-12 college preparatory school in Oklahoma City. She then moved to the Hockaday School, an all-girls college preparatory school in Dallas, where she taught second grade.

Turner’s life dramatically changed in 2018 when her husband received a job offer in Lima, Peru.

“My husband works for a company based in Dallas,” Turner said. “They had an opportunity for us in Lima.”

Turner describes her experience in Lima as very different from living in the United States. The extreme poverty was especially striking, she said.

“There were definitely areas of very high poverty,” she said. “The socioeconomic statuses were very distinct.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Lima fell under strict lockdown, causing Turner and her family to move back to the U.S. in May 2020. With no permanent residence, Turner and her husband bought a recreational vehicle and traveled from Miami to San Diego.

Turner moved back to Texas when her husband took a job in Dallas. She had already heard about Greenhill through Hockaday and had done networking with the second grade teams. Turner started as a substitute teacher last school year and was drawn to Greenhill’s many qualities.

“She had great references from Hockaday and was an excellent sub here,”  said Head of Lower School Michael Simpson.

Turner says her experiences in Peru, where she and her family often received stares because of their pale skin and blonde hair, revealed the discomfort and hardship of standing out. She says this increased her appreciation for diversity, especially for her four-year-old son, Sullivan.

“When we moved back, I really wanted to be in a diverse community, not only for me as a teacher, but for Sullivan,” Turner said. “I really wanted him to be surrounded by a bunch of different people.”

Turner fell in love with teaching social studies because of the creativity and flexible schedule. Seeing the moment that students understand a concept is one of her favorite aspects of teaching, she said.

“When all of a sudden you can just see it in their eyes that they understand, that’s just one of my favorite parts about teaching,” Turner said.

Teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t come without struggle. Coordinating in-person and online learning was a challenge for Turner and other Lower School teachers.

Turner says the social-emotional progression of students has been a top priority for her.

“I feel like kids are just having a harder time keeping quiet in general, shouting out a lot more, not really understanding how the classroom works,” she said.

While Turner teaches her Lower School students, her son attends the Child Development Center at Greenhill.

“We’re hoping to expand our family by adoption soon,” Turner said. “We’re just waiting. All of our paperwork is signed, everything’s done, now we’re just waiting for them to call.”