Psychology teacher Brett Kramer is a conversationalist.
Whether he is teaching students part-time at East or giving rides as an Uber driver for a little extra cash, Kramer finds value in every conversation with both his students and customers and works to make everyone’s lives a little more positive.
“Every person that you come in contact with is someone that can add value to your experience and your life,” Kramer said. “They could teach you something, they could make you feel better about your day [or] they could make you laugh.”
This is Kramer’s first year at East, and he has been teaching, helping and joking with his students since he got here. He grew up in Belleville, Kansas, a small town in northern Kansas where a 15 minute walk can take you from one end of the city to the other. While the transition from a small town to a large city has been — and still is —a long process for Kramer, Uber has been a great way for him to learn about the city.
“[Uber driving] was just an opportunity to make a little extra money staying afloat as a part-time teacher at this point,” Kramer said. “I’m kind of a conversationalist and it’s obviously part of a service industry, so working as a driver, I knew I’d be surrounded by people.”
Three months and around 300 rides later, Kramer has not only gained a tremendous amount of knowledge regarding city life and directions, but has collected countless stories and experiences with passengers—almost all of them positive.
Since mid-January, Kramer has met Royals pitcher Ian Kennedy’s movers, friends of old friends and people from all over the world. He’s described his many conversations with passengers as “amazingly wonderful,” and he loves to share his stories with students.
“When Mr. Kramer shares his Uber stories, it’s amazing,” says sophomore Ellie Harkens. “He likes to say he isn’t funny, but I think most of us can agree that his dry humor and subtle little puns have made us laugh at some point.”
But, not every drive goes so smoothly.
Over Valentine’s Day, Kramer picked up a woman from a bar in the Plaza to give a ride home. He began to converse with her before learning that she went to the same high school as his brother-in-law. In case she might have known him, Kramer asked her what year she graduated, and the woman became furious.
“She just lost it,” Kramer said. “She thought I was asking her age, and she flew off the handle on me. I mean, she went bezerk.”
The woman bombarded Kramer with questions and insults like “Why are you asking how old I am? You’re probably from some small town that didn’t teach you manner!” and “You’re the worst driver I’ve ever had.” Then, one sentence pushed Kramer over the edge.
“The words ‘you don’t ask a princess her age’ came out of her mouth,” Kramer said. “It was around a 15 minute drive, and she got upset with me about three minutes in, so it was the worst ride, far and away.”
However, this is one of only three memorably bad experiences Kramer’s had while Uber driving. Though it’s much easier to focus on the negative experiences for him, like the time he spent three hours driving a drunk man home for free or the time a woman pulled her baby out of her jacket, Kramer tries to make the most out of every experience and focus on bettering other peoples’ days.
“Every interaction that you have with somebody is either positive or negative, there’s no such thing as a neutral interaction,” Kramer said. “You can either make someone’s day a little bit better, or you can make it a little bit worse. So if I’m with them for three minutes or I’m with them for half an hour, I just try to make their day a little bit better, somehow, someway, if even by having a normal conversation.”
This philosophy plays a part in Kramer’s teachings as well. He believes that while 10 years from now, students may not remember what they learned at school, they will always remember how a teacher made them feel. Because of this, Kramer focuses on relationships, relevance and rigor when teaching; what he calls the “Three R’s.”
“I hope the environment I set up in my classroom makes the students feel like they can share their opinions, relevant stories and any other input that might have a place in a given lesson,” Kramer said. “No one deserves to go to class and feel like they can’t contribute.”
Junior Portia Renee is in IB Psychology with Kramer, and she believes the classroom environment helps her.
“I feel that the conversational environment makes it more comfortable to ask questions,” Renee said. “I, personally, tend to ask a lot of questions and I really enjoy the back and forth.”
Of the Three R’s, Kramer believes relationships are one of the most important aspects of teaching and life.
“People are all that we have,” Kramer said. “That’s it. Every single student deserves to have at least one teacher on their schedule that they connect with; a teacher who makes them feel like they matter.”