Woodward, Okla. —
Horace Mann Elementary will soon be bidding a fond farewell to 3 longtime educators.
A retirement reception for 4th grade teacher Cindy Brown and 3rd grade teacher Cheryl Lucas will be held at the school on May 16 at 3:45 p.m. A second reception will be held on May 21, also at 3:45 p.m., for Principal Debbie Harrington.
The News recently sat down with these 3 women to discuss their time with the Woodward Public School District and what their educational careers, which together total more than 125 years, have meant to them.
"Each day is an experience; there's always something new," said Lucas, who after 50 years of teaching 3rd graders, ought to know.
"There's never a dull moment. Whether you're in a class with 25 kids or an administrator with 296 kids, you never know what you're going to get" said Harrington of her 37 years in education, which included teaching 2nd grade for 3 years in Sapulpa and around 22 years teaching 1st grade in Woodward before moving up to serve as the Title 1 coordinator for 5 years, curriculum director for 4 years and finally 3 years as an elementary principal.
And while there have been many changes over the years, the biggest has been seen in technology, said Brown who taught 3rd grade for her first 3 years and then spent the last 4 decades teaching 4th grade.
"I remember having to have one of my students show me how to turn my first computer on," Brown said. "It's still the same today, I still have my students help me out with technology."
But the women agreed that there is one thing that has never changed throughout their many years in education: their love for their students.
"We have loved teaching and it's been because of the children," Lucas said.
"The children are the reason," Harrington concurred.
However, they each have their favorite age group, as evidenced by the number of years they dedicated to a specific grade.
Lucas said she likes 3rd graders because "they're young enough that they're very loving, yet they're creative and willing to learn."
Brown said she enjoys the slightly older 4th graders because "they're all like sponges; they absorb everything you give them and want to keep learning an finding out new things."
"And they learn a lot of new things in 4th grade," she said.
"That's what I liked about 1st grade; almost everything is new for them," Harrington said.
Especially at the time when she was teaching 1st grade because "back then we didn't have ECC and they had only been in half-day kindergarten, so they had not even had a lunch period yet, you had to teach them how to eat in the lunchroom as well as everything else."
LUCKY TO TEACH IN WOODWARD
Besides feeling fortunate that they were each able to make long careers of teaching their favorite grade levels, all 3 women said they have felt fortunate those careers were in Woodward Public Schools.
"We're all thankful that we've retired from such an excellent school system," Lucas said.
"I've been to a lot of different states, conventions, and workshops. And everywhere I go, the teachers there tell us how lucky we are to teach in Woodward," Brown said. "Some from bigger districts have even said that they would trade their job with more money for our jobs with our students and our working conditions when we talk to them about Woodward."
And the women said it is not just the school district, but the community as a whole that has helped to make for a positive teaching environment.
"When I came here, I felt Woodward just open its arms to me. The people were friendly and nice and it's still that way," Lucas said.
And while both Brown and Harrington were Woodward graduates and so were just returning home to teach, they have also have received validation from the community.
"Woodward is an outstanding community and it's our community; it's always been very supportive," Harrington said.
NOT AN EASY DECISION
The decision to retire has not been easy for any of these dedicated educators.
"There was a lot of prayer and a lot of thought that went into making the decision," Harrington said. "It's never easy to decide to retire, but all of us inside realize at some point that it's just time."
"I'm always tearing up," Brown said.
"We all still cry," Harrington said.
And they're not the only ones who are emotional; they know their students will miss them.
"I had one come in today who just got the memo that I'm leaving, he jetted around this desk and grabbed me and started sobbing," Harrington said. "I told him that I was still going to be around."
In fact, all 3 women still plan to continue to be involved in education after their retirement, whether it is through substitute teaching, tutoring or just volunteering with the district.
"We'll still be back," Brown said.
After teaching for so long, Lucas said it would be hard to just leave altogether.
"School has become a second family to us," she said.
But besides helping out at the schools where they can, the women said they haven't made many other plans for their retirement yet.
"I just made one huge decision, I can't make anymore right now," Harrington said.
"The idea that we're going to retire has to really soak in first," Lucas said.
However, the women said that retirement will give them "more time for our families," Harrington said.
Brown said she will "go and see my grandkids," who live in New Jersey and Texas. She has 3 granddaughters, 1 grandson and another grandchild on the way.
Eventually the women said they expect they will find plenty to do during retirement.
"Everybody tells us we're going to be just as busy or even busier after retirement," Brown said.
"We all just look forward to the next chapter to see what it will involve. It's exciting to wonder what's going to happen," Harrington said.
FOREVER A TEACHER
However as the chapters of their careers come to a close, the women know there is a lot they will miss about teaching.
Besides the children, Lucas said "we will miss the friendships we have developed over the years."
"And the camaraderie," Harrington added.
But there are also a few things they will not miss.
"I won't miss the disciplining and the paperwork," Harrington said, adding, "I also won't miss the 6 a.m. phone calls from sick staff members and having to find substitutes at 6:30 in the morning."
Brown agreed that paperwork and early mornings are also things she is looking forward to saying goodbye to.
"I don't think I'll miss the cafeteria duty," Lucas said. "I like recess and going out with the children, but have never liked cafeteria duty."
However, the women know that in the end it will be what they enjoyed about teaching that they will remember the most.
"All the wonderful experiences and rewards that we've gotten over the years, we'll have those to think back over," Lucas said.
And they will forever carry the badge of honor that comes with the title of teacher.
"I still get goosebumps when someone says 'that's my teacher;' it just feels good," Lucas said.
"It means they appreciated you, remember you," Brown said.