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Archive for Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Times have changed during elementary educators’ decades in the district, but joy of teaching remains

Darcy Schild has worked for the Lawrence school district for 32 years. She will be retiring from her position as library media specialist at Schwegler School this year.

Darcy Schild has worked for the Lawrence school district for 32 years. She will be retiring from her position as library media specialist at Schwegler School this year.

May 8, 2012

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When Darcy Schild was hired as a librarian in the Lawrence school district, there was an actual physical card catalog.

Sunflower School's Gerry Bukaty,  pictured with her spirited class of third-graders on Monday, is one of several longtime elementary teachers who will be retiring this year. Bukaty said she enjoyed teaching third grade because it’s a year of confidence building in young students.

Sunflower School's Gerry Bukaty, pictured with her spirited class of third-graders on Monday, is one of several longtime elementary teachers who will be retiring this year. Bukaty said she enjoyed teaching third grade because it’s a year of confidence building in young students.

Retiring Woodlawn School teacher Sue Siegfreid, pictured in her classroom on Monday, has taught in the school district for 25 years.

Retiring Woodlawn School teacher Sue Siegfreid, pictured in her classroom on Monday, has taught in the school district for 25 years.

Ginny Turvey, who has spent nearly all of her 36 years in the district teaching fourth grade at Broken Arrow School, is retiring this year.

Ginny Turvey, who has spent nearly all of her 36 years in the district teaching fourth grade at Broken Arrow School, is retiring this year.

End of year schedule

The last day of school is just around the corner. Here is the schedule for the final days for Lawrence schools in the 2011-2012 school year.

May 17

Seniors last day of finals

May 20

Graduation day. Free State High School graduates at 1 p.m. and Lawrence High School graduates at 4 p.m.

May 22

Last day of classes for pre-kindergarten students.

May 24

Last day of school. Middle schools and high school students (with the exception of seniors) will have a half-day. Elementary schools have a full day of classes.

May 25

Final day of school for teachers.

That was 32 years ago. Today, all of those records are kept electronically. Schild is now a library media specialist at Schwegler School and admits to reading many of her own books on a Kindle.

Ginny Turvey, who has spent nearly all of her 36 years in the district teaching fourth grade at Broken Arrow School, started in the days when the latest innovation in education was teaching in open spaces and grouping classrooms in colonies. That trend has since passed.

Sue Siegfreid, who remembers attending grade school in sterile classrooms, has an old, bright orange armchair where her third-grade students at Woodlawn School like to cuddle up with books. Gerry Bukaty, a third-grade teacher at Sunflower School, is one of the few teachers in the building who has been there since the school opened in 1994.

Combined, the four have served in the district’s elementary schools for 119 years. All will be retiring at the end of the year.

Keeping school fun

In Schild’s beginning years as a librarian, books were checked out on paper. Now she keeps track of the thousands of books on her shelves with a few clicks of the mouse. Because Schwegler is a neighborhood site for students who are English language learners, Schild has incorporated Spanish, Arabic and other non-English books into her collection.

Students no longer come to the library in scheduled 30-minute classes. The library is better incorporated into a teacher’s curriculum, and students have more freedom in checking out books. While the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books might be the new “Harry Potter,” Schild said kids continue to read.

“I think kids still enjoy reading. … They love to come in and check books out,” she said.

For the classroom teachers, the biggest shift in the past 30 years has been in a more structured curriculum geared toward standardized testing.

“The amount of things they want students to master now, it is huge,” said Bukaty, who has spent 25 years teaching at Cordley and Sunflower. “I have always found, for the most part, if you keep the bar high, they will want to meet it.”

On the other hand, Bukaty worries about the increasing expectations placed on young students.

“We are always trying to meet the state standards and the national standards. There is a lot of pressure on the kids that wasn’t there before,” Bukaty said.

Siegfreid, who has been in the district for 25 years, said teachers no longer do as much theme or unit teaching as they once did. For example, she used to have a unit on bats that tied in math and science instruction.

“I always felt children got so much out of that,” Siegfreid said. “But we don’t have time to do that anymore.”

Over the past few decades, teachers have had less flexibility in the curriculum, Turvey said. She has worked hard to hold on to some of her favorite lessons. Among them is having the class dissect owl pellets, the round, hardened mass of bones, feathers and fur that the birds cough up.

“That is what is fun, these special kinds of activities,” she said.

Core beliefs unchanged

Despite the changes in education, these teachers have stuck to some basic philosophies on teaching.

For Bukaty it’s making sure that her students know she cares about them. She says something personal to each one of them every day, takes them to Kansas University women’s basketball games as a reward for reading at home and attends their sporting events.

“That sort of stuff builds relationships,” Bukaty said.

Siegfreid said being truthful is important, whether it means telling students you aren’t feeling well that day or keeping to your word.

“Don’t say anything you don’t intend to do,” Siegfreid said. “They need consistency. They need to know they can believe you.”

For Turvey, the classroom has meant celebrating often, from birthdays to Groundhog Day.

“Kids spend a lot of time every day with their teacher,” Turvey said. “We want to make it fun, enjoyable, comfortable and safe.”

Along with laughter, Turvey’s classroom is filled with Jayhawk memorabilia and is home to a cage of hissing cockroaches and an iguana named Spikette. On Halloween the class makes pumpkin pancakes. After every KU men’s basketball team victory, the fight song is played.

“Kids remember those special kinds of things,” she said.

Without a doubt, the teachers are passionate about their schools.

“I love the families, the kids, my co-workers. It just felt like home, a place I wanted to stay,” Bukaty said of why she spent 18 years at Sunflower. It felt so much like home that Bukaty put up curtains in her classroom windows.

Leaving behind legacies

The 25 years or more these teachers have been in Lawrence have brought many highlights.

Siegfreid is one of the first teachers in the district to win a BOBs award, which recognizes dedicated and excellent teachers and includes a $10,000 prize.

“It came at a very good time for us,” Siegfreid said. “I often thought that much money, what a difference it would make in the lives of other teachers.”

Bukaty is proud of the more than $10,000 her students raised over the years for the Lawrence Humane Society. Each year, students and their parents make clay necklaces that are then sold to benefit the nonprofit.

“That has been huge,” Bukaty said. “The kids love pets and animals, and many haven’t been exposed to a place like the humane society.”

As for Turvey, one of her lasting legacies will be the flower beds she has helped cultivate around the school. Turvey’s green thumb was evident by the potted cups of marigolds in one corner of the room last week. The students had planted the flowers from seed and planned to take them home for Mother’s Day. Even in retirement, Turvey said she intends to help keep the flowers of Broken Arrow blooming.

And Schild plans to continue on as a librarian of sorts. She is part of the online movement LittleFreeLibrary.org and has set up a wooden box in her yard where people can borrow and return books on the honor system.

The real legacies, the group of retiring teachers said, are the students and the best moments are when they hear from former ones.

“It is that feeling of hopefully I made a difference in people’s lives,” Turvey said. “You never know which student it is going to be.”

Siegfreid once had a high school student tell her that she would never forget the time the entire class received a 100 percent on their spelling test and Siegfried pretended to faint on the floor in shock. Another told her how much they appreciated learning English in her class.

“Hearing about the success of any student is one of the highlights. You feel good that you were a small part of their lives,” she said.

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