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Special Education teacher Nita Cummings receiving recognition at the Flashback Assembly on April 27th. Image by George Frey.

Retirees recount a lifetime of education

"Mr. Gaub was a fantastic person to work with when we were planning the bonfire and car smash for homecoming."

- Sonya Hu, Senior"Mrs. Jorgenson gives us a lot of freedom, which makes her class a lot more fun than other P.E. classes that I've had."

- Megan Pullen, Junior "I'm really thankful for [Mrs. Morton] because since my freshman year she's always had an open door." 

- Ellie Kaufman, Junior

Teachers impact lives in extraordinary ways. They are guides, muses and catalysts for many to make a full effort in a given subject. A teacher’s job is not only to instruct but to connect with students, giving them a sense of control and understanding. So when it’s time to say goodbye to them, as well as their fellow coworkers, it can be difficult.

Assistant principal Brian Gaub, secretary of athletics Karen Morten, physical education coach Candace Jorgenson and Special Education teacher Nita Cummings will retire at the end of this school year.

It will be very tough to leave RBHS,” Jorgenson said. “I have had the opportunity to work with so many awesome students and have learned so much from them. And I have also learned an incredible amount from my peers.”

For Cummings, a special education paraprofessional, teaching children is “in her blood,” as she has worked in the field since she was 28.

“When I went back to school, I learned that I must learn to become more compassionate and understanding,” Cummings said, “Especially when working with kids who don’t necessarily have a voice. My compassion and passion for working with these kids have grown, and I’ll miss seeing these kids every day.”

Some retirees will miss their departments as a whole, given that they are able to connect to others who share their interests, and specific passion for helping their students using their skills.

“The specialists here [special education] have all been wonderful,” Cummings said. “My boss, Pam Slansky, and all my fellow co-workers are all just wonderful people who I will miss dearly.”

For many teachers, students have been inspirations for them to become better people and to understand the issues facing young people today. As teachers go further into their careers, they also delve further into the minds of their students and understand them as individuals, rather than just names on a class list.

“When working with kids,” Morton said, “you need to learn to listen to their whole story. Not just what you want to hear, but you need to hear all of what they have to say. I had worked 30 years in a different industry here in Columbia but decided it was time for a change, so I became a teacher. And every day I said to myself; ‘I have never worked harder, been paid less and felt more fulfilled at the same time.”

For many teachers, the sense of being fulfilled by students is mutual. Knowing these students over time, especially at a school like Rock Bridge, is incredibly interesting for them. As they know that they’ll someday go on to accomplish great things and change the world.

“I am really impressed by the fact that we [at RBHS] have so many talented and polite kids,” retiring Assistant Principal Brian Gaub said. “I’ve always loved our activities with the fine and performing arts, and I have lots of faith in the future. We have thousands of students who are all remarkable in their own unique way, and I can’t wait to see what they end up doing in their adult lives. We are truly a school filled with quality individuals.”

For the majority of teachers that will stay, watching their coworkers and friends leave is a struggle. Teachers forge much of their friendships through being around coworkers and bond with each other over the years that they work together, whether that be in the same classroom as a duo, or even just passing one another in the hallway or seeing each other occasionally at faculty meetings.

“We have amazing people who work here. I’ve been here 20 years and seen lots of people retire, and they have all taught me something,” Dr. Jennifer Ruckstad, principal, said. “It’s always difficult to see people leave, but you feel good for them because they are culminating a career. So while I will miss them, I’m also really proud of them for being able to go out and begin a life outside of work.”

Truly, however, what is most important to teachers, and perhaps what they will miss the most, is the memories they create with students getting them to learn and finally watching their minds lick into place and understand a concept.

I have experiences all the time that remind me why I became a teacher,” Jorgenson said, “I have been fortunate enough to have taught in an elementary classroom for 14 years as well as middle school and, finally, high school P.E. I have been a part of watching six year olds learn how to read and write and seeing the excitement on their face when they finally understand something they’ve been trying to figure out.  I have been a part of watching high school students set goals for themselves and work towards them together. I hope that my students have learned from me even a fraction of what I have learned from them. I have enjoyed their sense of humor and their striving to make themselves better.”

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