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Gross named Hays-NEA master teacher




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It’s hard to tell which came first for Teresa Gross — being an artist or a teacher.

“I’ve been painting and drawing since I was a little, little girl. My teachers were always great. I don’t know that I could even separate the two.”

Gross, in her 20th year as an art teacher at USD 489, was named the 2014 Hays-NEA master teacher.

Since her father was a teacher, she spent a lot of time in schools when she was growing up. Her father’s core teaching subjects were math, science and biology, but since he taught in small schools, he taught everything except music.

Unlike her father who taught in a number of school districts, Gross has spent her career in the Hays district. She started as a part-time instructor in the Hays High School art department with art teachers Bob Channell and Jim Mages as mentors. 

“I learned so much from them,” she said.

Besides Hays High, Gross has taught at the former Jefferson, Munjor and Catherine Elementary Schools.

She is the only art teacher at Wilson Elementary School and shares duties with Rita Legleiter at Lincoln Elementary School.

Art and music in schools give students “a whole other way of thinking and expressing themselves,” Gross said. “I’m amazed when I go to the music programs. Children who are kind of, I would say shy, I see them up there dancing and singing their hearts out like they’re just as comfortable as can be in front of hundreds of people.”

She and her husband, Scott Gross, have two daughters, Sophia, a fifth-grader, and Juliet, who will be in kindergarten next year.

They also helped raise Teresa Gross’ half-sister, C.J. Lehr.

“We share a mother, but we have different dads,” Gross said. 

Their mother died when C.J. was 4, “so she was kind of like my inheritance, so Scott and I raised her from the time she was 4.”

Gross said she not only likes teaching in the district, but her girls have had excellent teachers.

As for her own artistic works, she likes painting, but with a family she finds drawing easier. 

“That’s really portable, and you can put it away.”

The process of selecting the Hays-NEA master teacher begins in the fall, said Ted Foster, who was in charge of the process.

Candidates, Hays-NEA members, must have taught in Kansas for five years.

Gross said she was a member of the teacher’s union early in her career, then quit and rejoined. 

“I just realized the people that represent us are so professional and passionate,” she said. “It means a lot that we have that kind of representation and leadership and people we can talk to.”

Each building selects a representative for the district master teacher. After two more elimination rounds, a district master teacher is selected.

Buildings honor their own candidates, and all of them are recognized at the Hays-NEA spring banquet in May.

As the district master teacher Gross can submit her name to the Kansas master teacher committee for Kansas master teacher, Foster said. Seven candidates are chosen across the state.