I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a teacher when I was an adult, and I am thankful I had the opportunity to build a family atmosphere within my own classrooms over the years. I retired this past May after teaching first grade for 33 years in rural communities. My first year of teaching was in Port Byron, IL, but the remaining years have all been in Monmouth, IL. I have enjoyed all my years teaching in a rural community.
Growing up on a farm in Lincoln, IL, I was fortunate enough to have small class sizes. I enjoyed smaller class sizes as I felt it made the classroom feel more like a family instead of a class, and it built a strong rapport between my teachers and me. I felt more comfortable asking questions in a small setting. When I became a teacher I wanted my students to have that same type of feeling, and I was fortunate enough to work in two different rural districts that also felt it was important to keep class sizes small.
At the beginning of each school year during the summer, I wrote my students a welcome letter telling them more about myself and letting them know I was eager to meet them. I feel that set a tone and let them know I cared about them as people as well as my students. During COVID lockdown when we were not able to be in school, I wrote to my students frequently and sent them letters to keep in touch with them, see how they and their families were doing, etc.
In May 2020, I visited my students to say goodbye after a very strange year for all of us. I stood on their sidewalks or in their yards to wish them well for the summer and give them encouragement for their upcoming 2nd grade year. It was so rewarding to see them and be able to add some type of closure to a crazy, uncertain year for everyone.
This past school year, when I knew we were beginning the year remotely, I wanted to make connections with my students before seeing them in small boxes on my computer screen. I made appointments to meet with families before the start of the school year and again formed a bond from a distance by standing in their yards or on their sidewalks. I am so thankful I did, as it helped establish a genuine, personal connection with each student.
When we were able to return to the classroom in person, even though we were socially distanced with our desks being separated and with masks on, it felt wonderful to know they had seen me in person prior to that, had seen my smile, etc. I am forever grateful that I had a bond established with them and was able to finish my final year of my teaching career with students in person in my room.
Although the last year and a half were difficult for everyone with the pandemic, I am so thankful that I was able to build relationships with my students and families. I feel the small class sizes helped allow me to do that as well as my desire to get to know my students.
I have literally grown up with so many families in the Monmouth/Roseville communities over the years, and even had grandchildren of some of my former students in class. I am proud of the teaching profession and have wonderful memories to last a lifetime of my many years teaching first grade with wonderful staff members at Willits and Lincoln School in Monmouth. I am proud to have taught in a rural area where fostering relationships and bonds with students and families are so important.