Lauren Heathscott, 23, a 2012 graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, is wrapping up her first year as a Kindergarten teacher at Ida Burns Elementary School.

Patient, nurturing and hardworking, Heathscott said becoming a teacher is the realization of a longtime dream. A look around her classroom shows she cares. She has all of the makings of a great Kindergarten teacher — the personality, the energy, the drive, the cool character voices when she reads aloud to her class ­— and she lights up when considering her 2012-13 students. "I just want to take all of them home with me," she says affectionately.

The Log Cabin Democrat sat down to talk with the teacher in her classroom Thursday during some downtime. Read what she had to say about Ida Burns, energetic children and reflections on the past year:

Log Cabin Democrat: Coming from a private school background, what inspired you to pursue a career in teaching in a public school setting?

Lauren Heathscott: I think that living here my whole life, I knew I always wanted to stay here in the school system. I actually went to St. Joe, but my dad (James Bates) was the basketball coach here, so I had a little bit of family in the district. I knew that I wanted to come and try out the public school because I had been so sheltered my whole life in the private school and I wanted to see what the public school was all about. I fell in love with it.

LCD: You have 18 five-year-olds for nearly eight hours a day. Eesh. What’s it like teaching them?

LH: They are full of energy. There is never a dull moment. They will speak whatever is on their mind. You probably have their undivided attention for about ten minutes at a time. They keep me on my toes for sure. They are definitely energetic, but they are very sweet and very caring.

LCD: Thinking about the role of parents regarding their children’s education and your communication with them, how do you facilitate that communication and how does successful communication impact your ability to perform your job and their performance in the classroom?

LH: Parents are, I think, the biggest key in a child’s education. If they are going to be involved, then the better off their child is going to be. We send home weekly newsletters, host parent teacher conferences, offer curriculum nights, all kinds of field trips, field days ­— we talk to parents all of the time. The more you get parents (involved), the better.

LCD: Tell us what you love about Ida Burns Elementary School.

LH: I love Ida Burns because it’s one big, happy family. They are so caring. The staff and the faculty here and the administrators are amazing. I couldn’t have asked for somebody better to be around for my first year and hopefully many more years.

LCD: Being a teacher these days goes so far beyond carrying out a lesson plan. You are mentor, counselor, protector, nurse, part-time parent and more to your kids. When you think about things that happen in the classroom, outside elements, things beyond your control, like the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary or the recent tornado in Oklahoma, how does that shape your thinking about your job and its responsibilities?

LH: I think in the moment, we know that our number one job here every day, not just in tragedy, is to keep our kids safe and that’s what I’m going to do. I know I am going to do whatever I have to do to keep them safe. It would break my heart for anything to happen to them.

LCD: What are some elements of teaching, or in thinking of yourself as a teacher, that may not be textbook or may have gone unrealized until you got into the classroom?

LH: There’s so much that you don’t learn. There’s so much more than what’s in the book. How to deal, especially with a five-year-old. Each kid comes with a different story. They have a different background, they have a different home life, and you don’t learn any of that stuff in college. There’s so much that I’ve learned this year, and I’m still learning, and it’s always changing.

LCD: Your job is, without question, one of the most important jobs out there, and it’s often thankless. Many believe you all are underappreciated and underpaid. What inspires you to make it through the difficult days?

LH: My kids, first and foremost. If it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t make it through the most difficult days. You would be like, "Why am I doing this? It’s not worth it." But when you put it all back on them and the influence that you have and the smiles and the hugs that you get every day, it makes it all worth getting up in the morning and coming to school every day.

LCD: It’s the end of the school year. How difficult will it be to let this class go?

LH: It’s going to be difficult for sure. I have two or three that I know aren’t coming back to this school, which makes it even worse. They will always be my first group of kids. I’ll choke up if I start talking about them, but they’re very special to me, for sure.

LCD: How will you spend your summer? Recovering, we assume?

LH: I am going on vacation to an island, so I will be laying out in the sun. I plan on relaxing by the pool and just recovering. The first year takes a lot out of you. I’m worn out.

LCD: And then you’re looking forward to a good second year, and a brand new class in August. You’ve not been scared away yet, right?

LH: No. This is what I want to do and I’ve known that for a very long time, so I’m glad.

(Megan Reynolds is a staff writer and can be reached by phone at 501-505-1277 or by e-mail at megan.reynolds@thecabin.net. Follow us on Twitter @meganpreynolds, @LCDonline.)