Mrs. Brence Retires from Teaching, Returns to Adult Ed

Lifetouch National School Studios Inc.

After 39 years in education, Mrs. Karen Brence has retired . . . well, sort of.

Even as a child, Mrs. Brence always loved school.

“My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Althea Rose, inspired me to become a teacher because she made learning so much fun,” Mrs. Brence said. “I wanted to help others feel the same joy I did when I learned something new.”

Mrs. Brence earned a Bachelor’s degree in Bilingual Education from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, OK. During that time, this Fort Smith native also traveled to Monterrey, Mexico, for one summer as a foreign exchange student at the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM). Mrs. Brence also earned a Masters degree in English as a Second Language (ESL) from the University of Texas at Austin.

Before teaching 9th grade English for the past eleven years here, Mrs. Brence also taught 7th grade Language Arts, ESL, and Spanish (each for one year). Prior to Kimmons, the tri-lingual Mrs. Brence taught for thirteen years in Poteau Public Schools: Spanish, French, English, and ESL.

Dr. Rhonda Gray, who retired in 2016, taught 9th grade English with Mrs. Brence for seven years and considered her a thorough, efficient, and caring teacher.

“Over time, Mrs. Brence became my grade-level partner and most importantly, my friend,” Dr. Gray said. “I am blessed because she entered my life.”

Mrs. Brence also impacted current freshman English teacher Mrs. Hubbs’ life.

“When I very first started at Kimmons in 2008, Mrs. Brence was more than a colleague in the English department — she became a mother figure to me,” Mrs. Hubbs said. “Anytime I needed anything — anything at all — she helped me. Mrs. Brence gave great advice, too! Everyone needs a Karen in their life — someone they know is always in their corner.”

Mrs. McFarland, former KJH 7th grade Language Arts teacher, also began her career in 2008 with Mrs. Hubbs.

“Mrs. Brence teased us about being ‘stuck’ with the two young kids, so that’s how she became our ‘Mom,’” Mrs. McFarland said. “Even before that first school year began, we went on a road trip to Searcy for Literacy Lab. Mrs. Brence drove. Mrs. Buccella sat up front, and we ‘kids’ sat in the backseat. Getting to know them beforehand made walking in that first day easier. Also, Mrs. Brence is just one of those people who is so easy to work with. She’s always in a good mood and always helpful.”

Mrs. Brence’s best times as a teacher were when her students had “Aha!” moments of finally getting a concept or skill or making a connection to something else.

“It has also been gratifying to have students come back (usually as adults) with stories of how the things I taught them helped them later on in their education or in their lives,” Mrs. Brence said.

Throughout her career, Mrs. Brence not only taught adolescents, but also adults. Her experience ranged from ESL, Reading, Freshman Composition, and Spanish at Carl Albert State College, UAFS, and Fort Smith Adult Education Center.

“Adults are there because they want to be, they’re willing to work hard, and they appreciate their teachers,” Mrs. Brence said.

As for the new teachers, Mrs. Brence advises them to remember why they wanted to be a teacher in the first place.

“Some days this will be the only thing that keeps you going!” Mrs. Brence said. “Also, remember what is important. Is this lesson, or this battle, or this formality more important than the mind or heart of the student you are trying to reach?”

Ms. Florez, who co-taught with Mrs. Brence, acknowledged her kindness as a teacher.

“The best thing about Mrs. Brence is she has compassion for kids and wants to see them succeed, often going the extra mile for her ELLs and students with special needs,” Ms. Florez said. “I am honored to call her a friend and will miss her greatly.”

Ms. Munsell, another former co-teacher, appreciated Mrs. Brence’s efforts to positively impact her students.

“Mrs. Brence gave extra language support to her ELLs and provided an atmosphere for young adults to be swept away to distant places and times through literature,” Ms. Munsell said. “Her students will carry these memories and stories with them. Mrs. Brence is truly a caring and dedicated educator and will be greatly missed.”
In addition to reading, relaxing with her husband in Poteau, OK, and organizing closets, Mrs. Brence has some other plans for retirement.

“I want to see my grandchildren whenever I want, provided this Corona virus goes away,” Mrs. Brence said.

Mrs. Brence isn’t quite done with being an educator.

“I’m going to teach an adult ESL class two mornings a week,” Mrs. Brence said.

Even though she now teaches at the Adult Learning Center in Poteau, Mrs. Brence keeps Kimmons in her heart.

“​I will miss the personalities of the students, the professionalism and comradery of the teachers, and just the energy of Kimmons!” Mrs. Brence said.