Plymouth Teachers: The Monson Family

The Monsons have elementary in their blood.
The Monson family: Aaron, Camry (Crist) and Mike.

Harnessing the power of Google Earth, third-grade teacher Aaron Monson transports his class to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Daytona Beach in Florida and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Aaron pilots a make-believe airplane. The kids duly fasten their imaginary seatbelts and prepare for a bumpy ride.

Camry Crist gathers a kindergarten class together for one of their favorite games during the last few minutes of the day. Camry chooses a number between eight and 15. Students count off one by one until they’ve reached the designated number; that student sits. The object of the game is to be the last person standing.     

During class with elementary school students, physical education teacher Mike Monson preps the kids for a fast-pace activity: Chariots. The kids divide into groups of three, and each group is given a scooter. Taking turns, one person sits or kneels on the scooter while the other two use their combined strength to pull the rider for a lap around the gym.

It’s clear that Mike, Camry and Aaron share a passion for child development. They have something else in common, too: They’re all members of a teaching family, one that began in Plymouth when matriarch Marguerite Monson started educating middle-schoolers on the beauty of music in 1966.

Mike started his college career in business administration, but he didn’t enjoy it. Highly coordinated and active, he became a member of the University of Minnesota basketball team in 1974-75. As a self-taught juggler and unicyclist, he  would entertain the crowds on the basketball court while juggling basketballs and other props. When he told coach Bill Musselman how much he loved juggling, Musselman suggested he become a physical education teacher, a vocation Mike had never considered before.

Once the seed was planted, becoming a teacher made sense, as his mom Marguerite (who passed away in 2012) began teaching general music at Plymouth Middle School, when Mike was in seventh grade. Marguerite learned to play piano when she was 6 years old and filled the Monson household with music while Mike was growing up. “She thoroughly enjoyed kids and loved music, so for her [teaching] was simply doing what she loved,” says Mike’s wife Stacy Monson, who met her husband in junior high; the couple has been married almost 32 years. “I think Mike saw her true enjoyment so, when the time came to switch majors, he was very comfortable with the idea of teaching.”

Mike has never regretted his decision to follow in his mom’s educator’s footsteps: He loves teaching kids lifelong skills like shooting free throws, performing push-ups and, yes, juggling. He thrives in challenging his students—once a student has a skill down pat, Mike says, “OK, now how can we make this move more challenging?”
The teaching bug bit Camry a bit earlier in life; she knew she wanted to teach before she graduated high school. Camry took a class her senior year in high school on child psychology and became fascinated with the subject. “I love learning how people learn,” she says. Though the first few weeks were spent sitting through lectures, Camry and her classmates eventually shadowed teachers at Pilgrim Lane Elementary as part of the course. Camry says the combination of lecture and first-hand observation made for a rich learning experience.

As a substitute teacher, Camry is able to work with a variety of kids and subjects so that she is constantly learning new things. One thing she’s learned is that even if she teaches the exact same lesson to multiple classes, the experience is always different—much depends on the abilities, temperaments and interests of the kids.
Aside from being a naturally curious person, the fact that her dad and grandmother were educators also helped steer her toward that career—after all, a child psych interest does not automatically a teacher make.  When she told her parents her desire to teach, her dad was especially supportive, preparing her for what her college experience might look like, and offering advice on what classes to take.

Like his dad, Camry’s brother Aaron didn’t realize he wanted to become a teacher until college—specifically as a sophomore unhappy with the options available to him as a history major. At the time, Aaron was employed part time at Home Base—a K–5 before- and after-school program through the Wayzata school district. “I thought, ‘I enjoy this, maybe I could do this for a living,’” he says.

While Aaron loves the teaching aspect of his job, his favorite part is the informal interactions he has with students. He stresses the importance of these interactions, saying, “They can be short, but increasingly important, so that students can trust you as a teacher and know that you are someone who actually cares for them, who they know is excited to see them each day and willing to help them succeed as an entire person.”

“Through the years at the dinner table together, listening to [Mike] tell one hilarious story after another, both kids saw teaching as something fun, rewarding and challenging,” says Stacy, who herself has some instructing in her blood (she’s a freelance writer and inspirational fiction author).“Mike always made teaching sound fun, even when he’d had a stressful day. He’d talk about how he handled certain situations, share jokes he’d heard from the kids and just generally loved his job. That rubbed off on both of them.”

Marguerite Monson (deceased)

Education: St. Olaf, Northfield, Minn.; bachelor of music education
Taught: General music at Plymouth Middle School
Favorite part about teaching: Choral music and choral direction

Mike Monson
Education: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; bachelor of arts in elementary Education 1978, master’s in education 1987
Currently teaches: Elementary physical education at Kimberly Lane
Favorite part about teaching: Helping kids develop new skills

Camry Crist

Education: Luther College, Decorah, Iowa; bachelor of science in elementary education 2009
Currently teaches: Wayzata School District K–6 at Kimberly Lane, Plymouth Creek and Greenwood
Favorite part about teaching: Engaging with the curriculum and learning new things

Aaron Monson
Education: University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire; bachelor of xcience in elementary education 2012
Currently teaches: Third grade at Oakwood Elementary
Favorite part about teaching: The informal interaction with students