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Retiring Teachers Reflect on Lessons They Have Learned

Pam Adams, Journal Star

Retiring Teachers Reflect on Lessons They Have LearnedWhen Carl Hendricksen looks back on the teacher he was 35 years ago, he probably wouldn't have hired himself. He's learned a lot since then.

But none of it involves who passed, who failed, or who scored what on ACT, PSAE, ISAT, NWEA or any of the alphabet soup of testing methods he's become familiar with in his career.

"What really counts," he says, "is when I get asked 'Remember me?' "

That's what he learned at school.

It's the age-old question parents ask children: What did you learn at school today? Tweak the question, put it to teaching veterans and you get responses similar to age-old lessons of wise parenting.

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"Look beyond where students are when you get them and look at what they can become when you're finished with them," Molly Burroughs, a drama teacher at Peoria High School, wrote in an emailed reply.

LuAnn Stoskopf, retiring as band director at Lindbergh Middle School, said she could have written pages and pages about what she's learned at school about each child's uniqueness and the importance of finding different ways to teach each one the same material.

"No one was talking about different learning styles when I was in college in the 1970s," she said.

The school year ended for Peoria School District 150 students Wednesday and ends for teachers Thursday. But for Hendricksen, Burroughs and Stoskopf, it's a little more final. They're among the 11 members of the retirees class of 2013 leaving the district with at least 30 years of teaching experience.

Of all the lessons she's learned at school, Stoskopf said accountability is the most important.

"You have to be accountable to students and follow through with what you tell them you're going to do if you want to help them learn to be accountable."

Burroughs said sometimes students don't realize what they have to offer until a teacher helps them see it.

And sometimes, Hendricksen said, a teacher may not realize what a student has learned -- or what a teacher has taught -- until years later when a chance encounter with a former student begins, "Remember me?"

Hendricksen has coached soccer and track, taught a variety of courses at Manual Academy, science at Calvin Coolidge Middle School and is finishing out his career teaching engineering, electronics and drafting at Woodruff Career and Technical Center.

"Expectations for first- and second-year teachers are a lot higher than they used to be," he said. "I don't think I would have survived."

He credits part of his longevity to mentors who taught him how to deal with children. Over the years, he has held the hand of a girl in withdrawal, helped another find a place to stay. He has held a student in his arms after his best friend was killed in a shooting, the same student who had stolen money from his classroom a week earlier.

It's fun now to run into former students who tell him he was the best teacher they ever had, he said. "It wasn't that way when they were in class."

Most of his former students turned out well, he added, and what he learned at school is that the relationships he made were just as important, if not more so, than the lessons he taught.

Tell us what you think: even if you aren't a retiring teacher, you can probably reflect back and think of a few lessons your students have taught you. What are those lessons and how did they help make you a better teacher? Leave your replies in the comments section, below.