Former pro athlete Kjellsten: Teaching was backup plan

Published 5:00 am Thursday, December 16, 2021

Alex Kjellsten, a coach and teacher at Saint Louis Catholic High School, never knew he would wind up in the classroom but has found that it is exactly where he belongs.

“Even throughout college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I transferred four times and switched majors eight times because I always wanted to be a pro athlete,” he said.

He played for McNeese State University and LSU before “bouncing around a couple different teams” in the NFL. His aunt, a teacher herself, recommended that he have a “backup plan” and suggested teaching.

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Kjellsten began teaching and coaching at Immaculate Conception Cathedral School but didn’t anticipate being there long, he said. “I always thought I was going to be picked up by another team but I never got another call from another team. And at the same time, I started loving my job teaching.”

After about six month at ICCS, Kjellsten said, “I realized it was something I loved and wanted to do.” He spent two years at the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade campus before moving to the high school where he teaches world geography and coaches football and soccer.

Kjellsten spent the first eight years of his life living in different parts of Europe, a life experience that comes in handy in the geography classroom, he said. “Growing up in Europe, traveling the world and the fact that my dad still lives over there— that’s where my knowledge comes from.”

His life’s experiences aid him beyond the academic portions of the classroom as well as he shares his sports journey with his students. “On day one I explain my whole story and it really sticks with them (students). It’s definitely a unique story, one that not a lot of people have. And at the same time I went to ICCS and Saint Louis and I was in the same position a lot of those freshmen are at the moment.”

While his life may not be where he imagined it would be when he was a high school student, Kjellsten said he has no regrets about his journey. “I don’t regret anything that has happened in regards to my high school or college career because I know that I gave 100 percent to everything especially with sports. I can say without a doubt I gave everything I can.”

That’s the same kind of tenacity that he brings to the classroom and in preparation for his students, he said. “Everyday I want to make my class engaging, fun and I also want them to learn from it. It takes a lot of thinking and work at home when you get home from a long day of school. But I would rather stay up all night trying to come up with a great lesson plan than get the extra hours (of sleep) and have the kids not being engaged.”

Having students who are excited about his class is his favorite part of the job, he added. “Just the ability to put a smile on a student’s face every day is something that means a lot to me. To see the kids really engaged and to have them tell me they’re loving what I’m teaching them makes all the hard work worth it.”

When he’s not teaching, Kjellsten’s hobbies range from playing music, spending time with family and friends and watching sports, but the joy of teaching is almost always on his mind, he said. “I really love teaching just as much as that stuff. Even over Thanksgiving break, I was itching to get back to work.”