The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

July 12, 2013

High school teachers head for retirement


DANVILLE — Six longtime Danville High School teachers say they saw many changes in education during their three decades in the classroom. Not only had teaching methods changed, but so did the way instruction was delivered.

“Technology,” special education teacher Carol Huddleson answered when asked about the single biggest change during her teaching career. “I haven’t used a piece of chalk for years.”

Huddleson as well as learning specialist Donna Baldwin, learning disabilities teacher Julie Cravens, special education teachers Tammy Graham and Jan Keeler and English teacher Garnet Nixon all retired last month from DHS.

“Technology has had an extraordinary impact on how classrooms function,” Nixon said.

Keeler agreed. “The use of technology has increased exponentially. There is a greater emphasis on data — using test results to show both student growth and needs, then using that information to determine what and how to teach.

“More efforts are made by administration and teachers to use creative ways to teach, hoping to reach students in more effective ways,” she said.

Keeler also noted more teachers are pursuing higher degrees these days than in the past.

“Education is a lot like history in that it repeats itself,” Baldwin said. “Methods seem to recycle every three to five years; the only major change is what it is called.”

Graham said she believes the changes that occurred during her 35-year career improved the teaching and learning experience.

“We have more technology in our schools today,” she said. “More security programs are in place to keep students and staff safe during the school day.

“There also are more programs and interventions in place to meet the needs of all students,” she added.

As for favorite memories, Baldwin said “it is very hard to describe one favorite memory in the classroom or while teaching.

“I believe the most rewarding memories and gratifying experiences are those when students who struggle with an idea or concept finally understand it and the ‘light’ shines on their face and seeing students succeed who have been told that they ‘never would’ by others,” she said.

Cravens said she “has many great memories” of her teaching experiences at DHS, but that “one sentimental memory was when one of my former students, Chris Gaston, brought in his close friend and neighbor, Lowell Loving, who was a World War II veteran, to be a guest speaker for my World History class.

“It has also been especially rewarding when many of my previous students have come back to visit me and share the positive things going on in their lives,” she said.

Graham said a highlight of her career was being a co-sponsor of the Danville Advocates.

“The Advocates is a community service club that provides opportunities for students with disabilities to make friendships with their special education peers,” she said. “Many Danville High students have given back to their school and community.

“It is heartwarming to see students making a difference and, most importantly, learning the value of all people,” Graham said.

Huddleson said that while she has “had the opportunity to teach many outstanding young people, among them were two young men who had personal struggles in their lives which sometimes made it hard for them to be successful at school.

“I wanted them so badly to graduate and do something with their lives,” she said. “With as much encouragement as I could give each of them, and hard work on their part, they both graduated and enlisted in the Marines together.

“I became aware that both had been sent to Iraq, and I worried about them,” Huddleson said. “Eventually they both made their way back to Danville on leave to visit their families. To my great honor, they each came back to my classroom to assure me they were safe and being successful in their military careers.

“That was one of the moments in teaching that made me proud,” she said.

Keeler said she will really miss all of her students and has many favorite memories in the classroom.

“I taught social skills and foods classes, both of which helped students learn how to get along with others,” she said. “Our gigantic Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite memories. My two foods classes cooked and baked for weeks, freezing what we prepared.

“We invited all of our students, their families and DHS staff members to share a meal with us,” she said. “After serving 180 meals, we found ourselves exhausted, proud and happy. Whenever I run into a former student, their first question is always, ‘Do you still do the Thanksgiving dinner?

“My other favorite activity was our Christmas wrapping event,” Keeler said. “Volunteers helped students wrap hundreds of donated gifts, which our students then took home to give to their families. I loved helping kids feel the spirit of giving to others.”

Keeler added, “I enjoyed the straight-forward, honest input which my students always gave me. My favorites were: ‘Dr. Keeler, that dress isn’t as ugly as the one you wore yesterday’ and ‘How old are you? Really? You don’t look that old. You look WAY older.’”

Nixon said she had too many favorite memories to pick just one.

“Every day brought its own challenges and successes,” she said. “I should have kept journals of the truly funny or sincerely heartbreaking classroom stories; there would have been hundreds each.

“I love running into former students and seeing what terrific adults they have become,” she added.

The women had various plans for their retirement.

Huddleson said she planned to create a scrapbook with all of the school photos and homecoming photos students had given her over the years.

Keeler, who plans to spend more time making jewelry, added, “We’re going to go do the ‘retired teacher trip’ and see the fall leaves in the Northeast.”

Nixon said she was looking forward to “living an unstructured life,” adding that she planned to “sublet a place in New York City for four to six weeks and see all the museums.”

Also retiring from DHS at the end of the school year was Paul Marana, dean, 12½ years; Mark Neil, principal, 29 years; Vicki Shields, business, 33 years; Debbie Smitley, secretary, 25 years; Nancy VanVickle, secretary, 17 years; Marilyn Huxold, teaching assistant, 34 years; Thomas Lane, teaching assistant, 11 years; Linda Parson, teaching assistant, 40 years; and Shirley Satter-Hill, teaching assistant, 12 years.

Donna Baldwin

Position: Learning specialist, GLOBAL House

Age: 60

Education: Graduate of Schlarman High School; bachelor’s degree in elementary education/special education from St. Mary of the Woods, St. Mary of the Woods, Ind.; master’s degree in elementary education from Eastern Illinois University, Charleston; and endorsements in middle school and administration from Eastern Illinois University.

Experience: Thirty-two-and-a-half years with District 118, 19½ years of which as a teaching assistant at Meade Park Elementary School (two-and-a-half years), Garfield Elementary School (three years) and North Ridge Middle School (14 years) and as a teacher at North Ridge (10 years) and Danville High School (three years); five years at the Developmental Learning Center; and one-and-a-half years at Covington, Ind., School Corporation.

Julie Cravens

Position: Learning disabilities teacher

Education: Graduate of Allerton-Broadlands-Longview High School; and a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Eastern Illinois University, Charleston.

Experience: Nineteen years with District 118 as a learning disabilities teacher at DHS, and also a learning disabilities teacher in the past in the Oakwood School District, at Unity High School in Tolono and at St. Joseph-Ogden High School.

Tammy Graham

Position: Special education teacher and co-division leader

Age: 56

Education: Graduate of Danville High School; Bachelor of Science degree from Illinois State University, Normal; and Master of Science degree from Illinois State University.

Experience: Thirty-five years as a special education teacher and served as a division leader for 14 years at DHS; also taught at Washington and McKinley elementary schools besides DHS.

Carol Huddleson

Position: Special education teacher

Age: 57

Education: Graduate of Richwoods High School, Peoria; Bachelor of Science degree in special education/elementary education from Eastern Illinois University, Charleston.

Experience: Thirty-four years with District 118 as a special education teacher at Washington, Lincoln, Roselawn, Fairchild, Garfield, Edison, Liberty and Northeast elementary schools and at DHS.

Janice Keeler

Position: Special education teacher at DHS

Age: 63

Education: Graduate of Prophetstown Community High School; bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and a master’s degree and doctorate, both in special education, from Illinois State University, Normal.

Experience: Thirty years teaching special education at DHS and one year teaching fifth grade at Garfield Elementary School.

Garnet Nixon

Position: English teacher Age: 55

Education: Graduate of Danville High School; bachelor’s degree from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and master’s degree from Eastern Illinois University, Charleston.

Experience: Thirty-three years teaching at DHS.