Teachers bring careers to close during pandemic

Sandy Catherman takes a photo as quarantine continues, and she continues to teach her students online. 
Not many teachers expected their school year to end this way, and for retiring teachers like Catherman, it is far from expected.

Courtesy of Sandy Catherman

Sandy Catherman takes a photo as quarantine continues, and she continues to teach her students online. Not many teachers expected their school year to end this way, and for retiring teachers like Catherman, it is far from expected.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, school has been closed since March 16 and is remaining closed through the end of the school year. Quite a few things have changed because of this including the way students are learning, end of the year ceremonies and the return of students’ materials. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that there are still teachers who are retiring at the end of this school year. 

Many of those who are retiring wouldn’t have imagined not being able to see their students or coworkers in person for their last few months.

“This is certainly not how I wanted to bring my 34-year career to a close.  I’m a people person and love to laugh so not being able to see people every day has been hard for me. I value the connections that I make with my colleagues, my students and their families each year.  In several cases, I’ve taught siblings and even generations from the same family! Ending the school year and my career this way, I won’t get the closure with my students and colleagues that I would have liked,” eighth grade math teacher Sandy Catherman said.

“This certainly isn’t how I planned my last year to be. Working daily with the same people you form a friendship. You get to know about their lives and families. As well as they get to know yours. I will miss that part of working,” eighth grade office secretary Pam Purdy said.

“It is very strange to end my career teaching online from home.  I have a lot of mixed feelings about not being at school.  It is very sad not to be able to see my coworkers and friends.  It is also sad to not see my students.  I have not minded working from home,” business education teacher Christine Johnston said.

Even though this is their last year with the school, those retiring have found memories they have kept with them through their careers.

“My favorite memory is when the artist and book illustrator Joe Servello came to my sixth grade classroom at Juniata Elementary to present a series of lessons showing students how to draw.   He was so humble, and after he completed several drawings, he gave them to the school to keep,” ELA teacher Angie Baughman said.

“I have collected many memories.  There are several that still make me smile and chuckle to myself:  the time a guinea pig appeared on my desk while I was in the hall during a class change.  (Those who know me well know that although I’m a Mickey Mouse fanatic, I don’t like critters), or the time I came back to my room after lunch, and my desk chair was gone or the time when a student placed a neon orange BOGO sticker as placed on my chair, and I ended up teaching my lesson with that sticker on my derriere until a young lady in the front row said, ‘Miss Catherman, there’s a sticker on your butt,’ Catherman said.

Not all teachers have started their careers in teaching but are now looking back on their careers as they near retirement.

Well, I honestly can’t say I wanted to be a teacher all my life. As a matter of fact, I was a professional musician until age 30. At that point, the music business was beginning to change rapidly, and I had an opportunity to take a teaching position in the AASD and I took it. That was one of the best decisions of my life,” band director Kent Martin said.

“When I was twenty-five years old, my children were in kindergarten and first grade, and I volunteered as a room mother.  It was then that I felt teaching would be a perfect career for me, and a couple of years later I enrolled at Penn State to pursue a degree in education,” Baughman said.

Retirement is the end of a career, but it can also be the beginning of more free time.

“I am most excited for two things in retirement: One is being able to travel to London, England, to see my grandchildren any time I want. The second is not having to wake up at 5:00 a.m. every day,” Baughman said.

“I’m most excited to return to my hometown, Mifflinburg. It’s about 100 miles northeast of Altoona. I’ve already purchased a home there and am in the process of having some renovations done to make it my own. I will be closer to my family and childhood friends which is also a plus. I’m also thrilled about doing some traveling after the pandemic is over,” Catherman said.

“I’m looking forward to being able to take morning walks, travel and get to spend more time with my grandchildren in my retirement,” Purdy said.

“More of what I do now but didn’t have enough time for, spending time with family and friends, volunteering with the Boy Scouts, woodworking, kayaking and the list goes on,” eighth grade western and industrial teacher Gary Davis said.

Looking ahead, I’m excited to be putting more time in as I continue on staff with the Penn State Blue Band as well as having time to do more performing,” Martin said.

“I am very excited not to live my days on a bell schedule and to be able to go to breakfast or lunch whenever I want.  I also am looking forward to spending more time with family,” Johnston said.

As the end of the school year approaches, these retiring teachers are saying goodbye to their students and coworkers virtually for their last year. Even though many wouldn’t imagine their last year this way, they are making it work and spending the last of their career through quarantine while still making the best of it.