I’m retiring after 31 years of teaching in Alaska. I started teaching in 1989 – as it turned out the last year to qualify for TRS Tier I – and taught for Southeast Island School District for eight years. As a new teacher with no seniority, I was reassigned as needed. First, I was the middle school teacher in Coffman Cove for a year, then the 3-4-5 teacher in Hobart Bay for a year, then to Thorne Bay for four years. My last assignment was kindergarten teacher for the whole school district, flying on the school float plane 4-5 days per week, spending a night each at a dozen logging camps/towns across POW Island, spending the weekends in Ketchikan. There was a silver lining to my itinerancy; I was also president of the local NEA-Alaska affiliate, and traveling the circuit kept me very in touch with all the teachers, either sleeping in their homes or school floors!
I started teaching with the Juneau School District in 1997, the year Riverbend Elementary opened. I was hired as the Extended Learning (aka TED) teacher. It was a wonderful experience especially as the genesis staff, helping define the school culture. I grew a lot as a teacher, and was given latitude to use my creativity and tech integration to do some cool work with students. I taught at Riverbend for twelve years, including the middle four years also teaching general music. Those were extra busy years, with concerts in addition to project fairs, battles and bees – oh and babies (I married and birthed two babies, taking off twelve weeks for each, then back to teaching). Five classrooms, each one smaller than the last. I was very active in JEA leadership, serving as building rep, elementary rep, membership chair, secretary, and president.
In the spring of ’09, an intriguing position – general music and school librarian at Auke Bay – became available at my kinder daughter’s school. I was also eligible for that Tier I retirement, but thought instead I would extend my teaching career with this new, exciting, plate-spinning challenge. In true INTJ form, striving for competency, I earned my School Librarian endorsement from UW in ’11, and just last summer I finished my final level of Orff Schulwerk certification. Highlights included biennial productions of Nutcracker, planning the layout and furnishings of the beautiful new library. Lowlights include packing up a library (& music room), setting up and teaching in a modular library/music room on the playground for a school year, packing said room, unpacking and setting up a new library (& music room). I was active on the Alaska School Library Association board for several years.
I think some of my best memories in teaching involve working with students long enough to see them mature and find their way in the world; my oldest former student is 44 now! I’ve been blessed to be in positions where I often spent four to six years with each student; what a gift to watch them grow up before my eyes!
By far, my best memory of teaching is enjoying my fellow teachers’ company eating lunch in the staff room. I’ve been enjoying staff room treats and meals, catching up on the latest news, proving my wry commentary, but mostly blessed by your helpful, insightful, connected, and caring advice just about every school day for 23 years. That’s the part I will miss the most, I suspect.
I’m not really sure what I’m going to do in retirement, but I know what I won’t be doing during the pandemic. 😉 There will probably be books, crafts, music making, and gardening involved. I’m enjoying the peace and calmness of being home with my family and supporting my two TMHS high schoolers with their remote learning. I’m budgeting three years to go through/purge the garage full of school related stuff I’ve brought home over the years, and deferred home maintenance, starting with laundry. Then the youngest will be graduating high school, and my husband and I would most likely tool around North America towing our Scamp trailer – but during fall foliage or spring blossom time rather than the middle of summer.
You will truly be missed, Sheryl Wittig!
We wish you the best!