Mrs. Janet Kratz, a rock in the English Department


Anissa Gardizy

Mrs. Janet Kratz is the longest working teacher at North Penn, and her passion and dedication for her teaching has made her an icon in the English Department.

TOWAMENCIN – “Teaching really is a calling. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not just a 7:00am to 3:00pm job,” said
North Penn English teacher Mrs. Janet Kratz.

Kratz started her teaching career at North Penn during the 1984-1985 school year, and currently she is the longest working teacher at the high school. Ironically, Kratz didn’t plan on becoming a teacher, but her intrinsic passions led her to love education and what comes with it.

“You can tell right away that Mrs. Kratz knows what she is doing. She cares deeply about her kids. I see her after school for hours,” said English Department Chair Lucas Henry, “You just see the passion and dedication.Whether it’s grammar, vocab, or the book we are reading at the time, she knows her content through and through.”

Little Miss Vocabulary

“From the time I was little, it was pretty clear that I would be an English major of some sort. Even in high school I was not known for being quiet,” said Kratz laughing, “When I was little, my brother called me ‘Little Miss Vocabulary’.”

Being called ‘Little Miss Vocabulary’ was one of many harbingers foreshadowing that she would develop passion for literature and writing.

Upon being asked what she was like in high school, Kratz smiled.

“In tenth grade, I thoroughly enjoyed me life,” laughed Kratz, “I didn’t worry too much about school, but then I became a really serious student in eleventh and twelfth grade. I was super involved, just into everything. I would take a nap after school to stay up until God knows when to get everything done. I was involved in the band, the band front, yearbook, and German club. There was always something going on,” Kratz reflected.

Anissa Gardizy
Mrs. Janet Kratz during her senior year of high school.

With an inclination toward English and History in high school,  Math wasn’t her cup of tea. But a newfound talent in challenging literature reassured Kratz that an English path was her best fit.

“I had to work hard at math, that was not my forte. But I remember sitting in a ninth grade class reading Romeo and Juliet with some incredibly brilliant students who were math and science rockstars,” said Kratz, “It was the first time we read literature that was really challenging, and I think from then on, it became increasingly clear that would be the path I take.”

“They would look at me like, ‘How do you know that?’. To me, Shakespeare was just so clear, and to students I thought were incredibly intelligent, it wasn’t clear at all.”’

College Life

When it came time for Kratz to apply to colleges, she ended up choosing one that caught her eye when she was just in fourth grade. Her parents started doing college tours then since her older sister was five grades older than her.

“I was in fourth grade, and one of the colleges we visited was Ursinus. I loved the campus, I loved the stone, and it felt good. Then when it came time to choose a college and I visited again, it still felt good,” reflected Kratz, “I remember sitting on a bench at Ursinus under a tree, and I thought to myself, ‘yeah, this is it’.”

After graduating high school in 1978 and moving on to Ursinus, teaching was not necessarily the “plan A”. Majoring in English and History, becoming a lawyer was actually her initial focus. It wasn’t until she started student teaching that becoming an educator really appealed to her.

“I still had time to take the LSATs my senior year, and I started student teaching just as a backup plan. But it was at that point that I felt a sense of satisfaction that I had never really felt before. I felt good at it,” said Kratz.

But it was at that point that I felt a sense of satisfaction that I had never really felt before

— Mrs. Janet Kratz

Believe it or not, Kratz actually student taught at North Penn High School when she was twenty years old.

“Student teaching was brutal,” noted Kratz, “I was teaching two subjects (English and History), two levels, and I was exhausted. It was a lot.  It was a lot, but I laughed everyday. And some of the students who interested me the most were not necessarily the scholars. Instead, they were the funny ones, and they made me laugh.”

It was during her time student teaching that she realized law school might not be for her.

“At that point, I was ready to work. I didn’t want to spend three more years in school. It’s not that I didn’t like college, but the one thing that I missed was seeing people of all ages,” explained Kratz,”I really liked getting an apartment with old people beneath me or little people beside me. I just liked being a part of the world. After student teaching, the thought of spending three more years in a ‘college bubble’ was not something I wanted to do.”

Entering the Real World

Kratz got her first teaching job in the Central Bucks School District teaching at Unami Middle School. There, she taught eighth and ninth grade English classes. In her second year, she transferred over to the Souderton School District where she taught Government and English at Indian Crest Middle School.

“When I started student teaching, enrollment was going down. I had four job offers but no contract my first year. There were none. During my second year, I got a contract at Souderton and planned on staying there, but they wanted to move me to seventh grade, and I didn’t want to teach seventh grade,” noted Kratz.

It was then that her years of student teaching at North Penn came in handy.

Anissa Gardizy
Mrs. Janet Kratz when she started teaching at North Penn.

“I got a call from the woman who was then the supervisor of English at North Penn. She knew me from student teaching, and she called to ask me to come in for an interview for a position with a contract,” said Kratz.

With a guarantee of a contract, Kratz decided to switch over to the North Penn School District where she got the opportunity to teach the grade levels she had the most interest in.

“I really wanted to teach high school, so that was a big motivation for me,” she explained.

While Kratz is currently the teacher at North Penn with the most experience, it wasn’t always like that for her.

“Back then, the English Department was so intimidating,” recalled Kratz, “I just wanted to swing wide, not offend anybody, and live up to what they expected. They were tough- they set the bar, and you met it.”

Kratz remembered being one of the few young teachers at North Penn. Most of her colleagues were in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.

“At lunch sometimes it felt like I was sitting with a bunch of professors. They were fierce, but they really took pride in what they did,” she noted.

“They thought they were the absolute best department in the school,” joked Kratz, “I don’t know if they were or not, but they thought so! They expected you to be a part of that.”

Today, Kratz says the English Department still has high standards, but she feels like the intimidating standards are more toned down.

“I think the English Department is in a really good place right now. There is really good camaraderie, and I don’t think we are as intimidating as we were back then,” said Kratz, “But things were different.”

Pursuing a Master’s Degree

During her initial time teaching at North Penn however, Kratz started pursuing more education. In 1985 she received a Master’s Degree from Temple University in Journalism. When asked why she pursued a degree in Journalism, Kratz said it was because she wasn’t sure if she could handle teaching.

“Honestly, at the time, I wanted to leave teaching. It was three jobs in three years, so that was hard,” said Kratz, “I wanted to have options, so that’s why I got the master’s degree in Journalism. Ironically, by the time I got my master’s degree, I had kind of settled in. I was feeling less stressed about teaching since I had been in the same place for a few years.”

It was then that Kratz was asked to bring back journalism classes at the high school. Kratz started the journalism class, which inspired the creation of the yearbook and news journalism classes in future years. Kratz advised the Knight Crier for about six years. Then, the production of the Knight Crier Newspaper was done at the local Reporter.

“I would be there on the weekends until eleven or twelve on a Saturday night because we took over their equipment at night. We could only be there on night and weekends,” she explained.

Even though she has not advised the student newspaper for years, she still remains an avid reader and supporter.

Teaching Today

After teaching tenth grade English for twenty years, teaching AP courses breathed new life into Kratz’s teaching career. Teaching AP English even led Kratz to be chosen by the College Board to present at the National AP Conference in 2014. English Department Chair Mr. Lucas Henry described Kratz as a “rock” in the department.

“She’s definitely a leader in the AP classes, but she’s also a rock in the department. She has been doing what she has been doing for so long that she has an ability to lesson plan and deal with challenges easily,” said Henry.

She’s definitely a leader in the AP classes, but she’s also a rock in the department

— Mr. Lucas Henry

“For me, AP is such a good melding of journalism writing and English. It feels like the right fit for me,” said Kratz.

Today, Kratz teaches a multitude of classes, but not without the support of her colleague Linda Pistoria. Over the years, Pistoria has been what Kratz calls the “wind beneath her wings”.  

“Some teaching has been challenging, and I don’t know what I would do without her. She works really hard and helps make my job so much easier,” reflected Kratz.

The Ah-ha Moment

For any student that have had Kratz as a teacher, they know what the “ah-ha” moment is.

“To me, it is what would make anyone want to be a teacher. It’s the thrill of seeing a student get something,” explained Kratz, “That to me is what provides the deepest satisfaction.”

These moments are something Kratz strives to see among all of her students, not just the top scholars.

“It doesn’t have to be the top student in the class. It can be just as satisfying if not more satisfying if a student has to work really hard to get something,” said Kratz.

Kratz uses the analogy of students to whack-a-moles to explain what it’s like to have students come to understand certain topics at their own pace.

“I feel as if throughout the year, more heads pop up. It’s so nice to see certain kids get there. For some it’s in September or October, but for others it’s in April,” noted Kratz, “That’s what matters to me on a day to day basis.”

Effect on Students

While Kratz hopes to leave impressions with students that will last a lifetime, sometimes it is the students that leave those impressions on her. Over the years, interactions with former and current students have given her some of her most treasured memories and possessions.

“Honestly, sometimes it comes out of nowhere. It was about a year and a half ago that I got an email from a girl who graduated from the Naval Academy who was station in the Middle East, and she nominated me for Teacher of the Year in Pennsylvania,” explained Kratz, “I had not seen her or talked to her for more than eleven or twelve years. That was pretty incredible. She said her superiors ask her to read their writing all the time because she knows what she is doing, and she thanked me for that.”

“It’s things like that which can carry you through a mediocre day. Somebody really appreciates you, and you never know who that will be,” reflected Kratz.

The effect that Kratz has on her students sometimes incites them to leave her a special gift at the end of the school year. One year in particular, Kratz received a gift so special, she said it will be put in her coffin.

Anissa Gardizy
Mirrors and Windows

Six years ago, Kratz gave a quote about education for a synthesis essay that students had to either defend, refute, or qualify. Kratz chose, “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows”. (Ironically, the recent series that the English Department adopted for an anthology uses the same quote.)

“I remember it was the last day of school, and there were twenty people outside of my class. They handed me a beautiful hardbound book embossed with ‘Mirrors and Windows’,” said Kratz.

In the book were pieces of writing from a vast majority of her classes. Some were things that had been written during the year, others were written specifically for the book. There were three sections of the book that were divided by different quotes, a forward, and an afterword.

“It was so amazing, and it has been by my bed every since. That will go in my coffin, it was such a cool tribute,” said Kratz.

Philosophy on Teaching

“The teachers I respect the most, back then and now, are the ones that pushed me. Those are the ones I remember. The ones I hold closest to me heart are the ones that made me better. Those teachers could pull something out of me that I never knew I had,” said Kratz.

The ones I hold closest to me heart are the ones that made me better. Those teachers could pull something out of me that I never knew I had

— Mrs. Janet Kratz

In graduate school while studying journalism, there was one specific teacher who did this for Kratz.

“[My professor] ripped me to shreds, oh my gosh, I cried,” reflected Kratz, “I thought I was better and I wasn’t. But she taught me to think about writing in a way I had never thought about writing before. The one skill she gave me was that I could take what many people write and cut it in half, saying the same thing.”

In Kratz’s own teaching style, she strives to be the teacher that pushes, one students will appreciate.

“You’re immediate impression wouldn’t be this, but once you get to know her, she’s got a really soft heart. Sometimes teachers get a reputation like, ‘oh they’re a hard grader’, but she’s there. She’s giving you 100% all the time,” said Henry.

Balancing Family and Teaching

Kratz stressed the importance of being surrounded by people who support and understand the time commitments of the job. Kratz’s husband, who was also a teacher at North Penn, understood her busy schedule since his was the same.

“It has to be something you love and something you are drawn to,” said Kratz.

Traveling, music, reading, and theater sum up Kratz’s interests outside of teaching. She said her greatest adventure in life was being a mother.

“For me that began in China, and it has been an adventure ever since. When I look back on the years, it has been about juggling teens, toddlers and school. When my children were really little, my stepstons were teenagers, and now my stepsons are having kids,” said Kratz.

The Evolution of the Classroom

From 1984 to 2018, Kratz has seen changes in the classroom, but technology has had one of the most significant effects on it.

“The biggest change is technology. It has changed the landscape of teaching, for sure,” said Kratz, “But I’ve seen that very, very few students read unless they have to. There was a time when students couldn’t wait to have time off to read. You don’t hear many students say that anymore.”

The changes in reading habits also contribute to the way Kratz has to teach certain literary works.

“The Scarlet Letter used to be assumed. That wasn’t a hard one, you just read it. Now students really have to work at the Scarlet Letter,” said Kratz, “Students are just as smart if not smarter, but they don’t always have the stamina and focus to read like they used to.”

After student teaching at North Penn at just twenty years old, to being the longest working teacher at the high school today, Kratz has become an icon in the English Department. Students, teachers, and staff members look up to her, and they will do that for years to come.