Though nobody wants to think of it just yet, before we know it another eager bunch of kindergartners will be making their way to Pinewood Elementary, and an older, wiser set of students are off to new adventures beyond Pinewood’s doors come fall. So it is for the teaching staff as well. Pinewood Elementary is retiring five long-time teachers or paraprofessional this year that have left their mark on the school over multiple decades of service.
The school is retiring nearly half of its second-grade teacher lineup, with three of the school’s eight second grade teachers retiring: Becky Beck, Pat Gates and Beth Hill. Two others, Julie Busta and Cindy Moore, are leaving their posts in the school’s special education department, and library paraprofessional Rosie Peters, who played a critical role in maintaining the school’s libraries, rounds out the bunch of this year’s retirees.
“What I’ve said to each one of them is that they are true professionals in every sense of the word,” said Eric Olson, K-2 principal at Pinewood. “They are just the epitome of the golden rule of being a teacher and of being proud of the profession. All of those teachers went out just truly giving it their all still.”
“They really are unbelievable people, and they’ve given our school a lot of expertise over the years,” he added.
Becky Beck started working for the Monticello School district in 1979 as a short and long-term substitute teacher, and she joined Pinewood’s team full-time in 1985. Though she spent two years in third grade, Beck spent the lion’s share of her time as a second grade teacher.
Beck’s husband retired from his job at the St. Michael-Albertville high school two years ago, and now the pair plans to put cabin time on Dead Lake and grandchildren time on the top of their to-do lists now that both are in retirement. Beck also plans to help her husband with his work as the executive secretary for the athletic directors in the state of Minnesota.
Though she has a busy schedule lined up for her retirement, Beck said that doesn’t mean she won’t be missing the students. She said she will miss their smiles and all their creativity with their art projects and creative writing, as well as watching them progress through the year.
“I think pretty much all of it,” she said with a laugh when asked what she will miss most.
As one of the three second grade teachers retiring, Beck said she isn’t worried about the school being able to adapt and move along well with the new teachers on board.
“The new teachers will do just fine,” she said. “They have all the technology backgrounds, and it’s nice to see someone new and excited over teaching come in and take over.”
Pat Gates made a career out of second grade, taking it once herself and then leading it the next 37 times as a teacher at Pinewood since 1975.
“To me [second graders] are just ideal,” Gates said. “You’re not starting with everything, but they are still so loving and so much fun at that age.”
Gates said she has always been the most comfortable around the younger kids, but that didn’t stop the nerves from coming out in full force as she started a career where dozens of children relied on her teaching ability each day to succeed. Luckily, she said she was fortunate enough to have a fantastic team of teachers who guided and supported newer teachers.
Some of Gates’ best teaching memories include team-teaching units on different topics, such as penguins or medieval times. In fact, she said she has had grown-up students tell her about their own fond memories of units like these. Gates said what she’ll miss most are the cute pictures and notes she gets from her students, and not having those funny little stories about the things kids say to bring home and share with her family.
Though Gates is officially retiring as a teacher, she won’t be kept completely out of the classroom. She plans to work as a substitute teacher next year, helping out on a day-by-day basis for when teachers have days off. Gates said she has always loved getting to see her students continue to grow and be at Pinewood through their fifth grade year, and this will allow her the opportunity to do that and keep in touch with the school and her co-workers. She also plans to spend more time visiting her four children and one grandchild, who are spread out in different areas around the country.
“It’s going to be quite a lifestyle change,” she said of her retirement. “I’m going to have to think of a different routine!”
37 years ago, Beth Hill was starting her first job out of college as a second grade teacher at Pinewood. Hill didn’t grow up around here and she didn’t have a preference for teaching second graders, but it must have been a match made in heaven, as Hill hasn’t strayed from either the school or the grade level since.
“It’s where I happened to land and I’m very glad I did,” she said of her spot as a second grade teacher. “They are just the best age; they are still full of exuberance. They want to learn and get excited about learning, and they still want their teacher to like them,” she added with a laugh. “It’s just a great age.”
The emphasis on testing has been one of the biggest changes Hill has noticed throughout these 37 years, but she was quick to say that kids are kids no-matter what is going on in the educational world. Some of her favorite memories of teaching were the multi-disciplinary units that grade-level teachers often taught together, but the best thing about second grade, she thought, was the ability to bring kids to new worlds as she read to her students and got them excited about reading.
Hill said she could remember back to her earliest years of teaching and being struck by the enormous responsibility of her job, and the faith the parents have in her as a teacher, as she looked at the expectant faces of her students.
“The parents are trusting their child to you for six to seven hours each day and they don’t know you,” she said. “That is really a charge a teacher takes seriously, or at least I did.”
“There are so many days that are made by the kids – that’s what teaching is all about,” Hill added. “You can come in in the worst mood-maybe 10 things have already gone wrong-but as soon as the kids walk in the room you forget about that, and there’s always the smiles and laughter that make you forget about all about everything else.
“You have to have a sense of humor, you have to just roll with it, and it’s so much fun. I can’t imagine a better career for me – it has been wonderful.”
A last-minute college job offer changed the course of Cindy Moore’s career path-and life-when she was asked to coach softball for adults with mental handicaps.
“I had never worked with anyone with a mental disability before, and I was a little worried about that,” Moore said, “but I took it on, and it was probably the most inspiring summer I’ve ever had.”
Moore said that back then people with special needs weren’t included as much as they are now, so coaching gave a whole new view on people with disabilities that caused her to change her major to become a special education major in college rather than general education.
A 26-year veteran of Pinewood Elementary, Moore spent her first several years teaching students with development cognitive delays, but most of her years were spent with special education kids in their early years of kindergarten and first grade. In her 34 total years in special education, she has worked with people from age four to people in their 70s.
Mainstreaming kids, or incorporating them into general classrooms as much as possible, is one big change she has seen throughout her years in the special education field. The amount of required paperwork has also multiplied, but the most important change Moore has seen is the new brain research and teaching methodology being incorporated into teaching these special needs students in different ways.
“I have been blessed that I’ve been able to work with all ages … with all different, needs,” Moore said. “It has just been inspiring. I think I’ve learned more from them than I’ve been able to teach them. It has been wonderful.”
Moore will be helping with her husband’s business in her retirement, which also involves some traveling. She also wants to use her new free time to give back more in different ways, such as volunteering in a battered woman’s shelter or with kids with disabilities.
Rosie Peters is a 37-year veteran of the school’s library system, where she began her career as a media center paraprofessional at the old Oakwood Elementary, which was located at the current Wells Fargo Bank space. She joined the Pinewood staff when Pinewood West was added on to Pinewood East.
Peters said technology has changed the school’s library system in big ways since the old days of date-stamping those cards in the back of library books. Each card would need to be filed alphabetically every afternoon once all the books were checked out, and all records were kept on manual typewriters.
The way the library system is ran has also changed a lot for Peters during her 37 years at Pinewood, which in the early days was having two libraries at the school with two separate media specialists. As money ran short, they went to 1.5 media specialists and 2 paraprofessionals, then one media specialist and herself working as the paraprofessional. Last year the media specialist position was eliminated and Peters said she ran both libraries, working with all 1,000 students and all staff members to help students have a positive library experience.
“There are so many things I know I am going to miss,” Peters said of her time at the school. The smiley faces that come off the bus in the morning tops her list. She said she thought the kids looked to her as a grandmotherly figure, ready to share a hug, hear a story or answer a question.
“Those kids could make your day,” she added. “That I’ll truly miss.”
Peters also said she will miss the camaraderie and fun times with the staff, some of whom took to calling her “Grandma Rosie.”
Though Peters looks back and wishes she would have gone into college for her education degree, she said money was tight and she was happy to have found a way, as a paraprofessional, to keep education as one of the most important parts of her life.
“Having worked there for 37 years, my gosh, I had to have enjoyed it,” she said. “And I really did enjoy it.”
Note: One other retiree, Julie Busta, could not be reached for participation in this article.