End of An Era
May 24, 2022
Some teachers have experienced careers that have been longer than most of our life spans. They’ve sought out the opportunity to live their lives to the fullest by choosing a career that pours life into the next generation. And now the chapter has closed. However, an approaching new phase of life doesn’t erase years of memories. Their impact on students and families is unimaginable.
The cost of the job requires teachers to sacrifice unending effort and emotion inside and outside of the classroom. The job never ends. Parents and students may never know the toll this takes on a teacher.
“Unless you are married to a teacher or you are a teacher, I don’t think people know how much work goes into being a teacher, and you work really, really hard – if you really care about your kids and you are thinking about them and trying to do stuff for them all the time and dedicating all these unpaid hours to them,” said 7th-grade teacher, Mrs. Merry.
The Howl sees some of the weight teachers carry and wants to give recognition to the educators who have served in Etiwanda for so long. For some, this is the end of a career. For others, it’s simply a transition to a new setting. But each one is turning the page. This year’s retirees and resigneess include Ms. Uhalley, Mrs. Larkin, Mrs. Merry, Mrs. GJ, Mr. Ornelas, and Etiwanda superintendent, Dr. Judson.
Ms. Uhalley has been teaching at Day Creek for 9 years and is resigning to teach in Hawaii. What was the hardest part of your time at DCIS?
“Keeping a positive [mindset] during the pandemic. It was really important to me as a teacher and most educators not only that you guys were learning things but also hanging in there emotionally. It was hard to tell because we couldn’t see you in person, so it’s hard to make a personal connection with a student just over a computer,” she said.
While Covid was demanding, teachers continued to push themselves and their students in an effort to make a difference through a very difficult season.
“I love my job. I’ll never regret being a teacher. I’m glad I made that decision. Something happens every day that makes me laugh, like a student says something or they say something to each other, or just a little triumph where they believe in themselves,” Ms. Uhalley said.
Mrs. Larkin has been teaching for 12 years at DCIS and is retiring to enjoy more time with her loved ones. She has some advice for the incoming teachers that will reach the next generation of bright minds.
“You have to love working with kids. They’re smart, funny, crazy, emotional, and sometimes even annoying. You need lots of patience. It’s best to be organized, yet flexible because sometimes…lots of times…your plans have to change,” said 6th-grade teacher, Mrs. Larkin.
Like Ms. Uhalley, Mrs. Larkin’s hardest moments came during the pandemic as she recognized the academic gap that the virus created.
“The hardest thing about my job was teaching during the pandemic. It was difficult not seeing kids in person, and some students had a hard time focusing when we were virtual due to distractions from phones, TV, computer games, helping siblings, etc., or they didn’t have the help and support they needed while they were at home. Plus, I was not the most tech-savvy person, so that was a huge learning curve for me,” she said.
Regardless of the challenge, she reveled in the success of her students.
“The most rewarding thing about teaching is seeing kids work hard, persevere, and be successful. Kids are awesome and teaching is rewarding! I’ll miss it!” Larkin said.
Mrs. Merry has been teaching for 15 years at DCIS, 20 years in Etiwanda, and 25 years total. She is retiring to enjoy her next chapter of life in Texas. Like most retirees, she’s wrestled with the challenge of separating the emotional aspect of work and home.
“This is probably the most difficult part of the job because teaching is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You never truly leave it. You think about your students all the time. For 10 months they come home with you in your head and heart. You try to figure out ways to reach each of your students – make your lessons valuable, and for your students to find significance in themselves. You think of ways to pour into them and make an impact. Your students become part of your family and at times, at the cost of your family. Healthy boundaries are critical and sometimes they get blurred and are difficult to separate. For the last 25 years, that has been a work in progress for me and it has not been easy,” said 7th-grade teacher, Mrs. Merry.
Teaching is not a job for many but a lifestyle. Mrs. Merry wanted to be able to “see some of [her] lowest students, students who thought they were not ‘smart’ or could not succeed become successful and start believing in themselves.”
She has enjoyed seeing her students grow up and cites this as one of the most fulfilling moments of her career.
“Watching my students grow up and become successful adults contributing to our country. I keep in contact with so many of my former students and it has been amazing to watch who they have become; government leaders, teachers, lawyers, doctors, business owners, wonderful moms, and dads, etc. This makes my heart full, especially when we meet up and get to spend time together. A few of my former students teach at Los Osos and Rancho Cucamonga High Schools. Some were even my youngest son’s teachers,” she said.
Students make mistakes and some teachers never give them the chance to reflect and change. But Mrs. Merry wanted to help those students who’ve attempted to grow from their mistakes.
“Take the time to get to know your students. Do not judge them based on what other teachers or adults tell you. Give them a chance to let you discover who they are. Let your room be a safe haven for them and a place of second chances. But also hold your students accountable, especially in a society where accountability seems to no longer exist,” Mrs. Merry said.
6th Grade teacher, Mrs. G-J has been teaching at Day Creek ever since it opened, 18 years, and had many experiences along the way. What is the most exciting part of being a teacher?
“[It’s] finding that key for kids and turning [things] around. Certain kids have never had good grades. I have sat in parent conferences and we share the report card. I’ve had kids start crying when they see it, not because it’s bad, but because it’s good. I’m like ‘Hon, you know those are good grades right?’ and they’re like, ‘I KNOW!’ They are crying because they are so proud of themselves, and that’s very emotional for me to know that they finally feel that feeling of ‘I accomplished that’ and ‘I can do things better than I ever thought I could.’ There’s nothing like that,” Mrs. G-J said.
While teachers celebrate the victories of their students improving throughout the year, the pressure to unlock student success has the potential to add more stress to a teacher’s job.
“You think as a new teacher, ‘If I could just help one kid,’ but when you become a teacher you feel like, ‘Why am I able to help everybody, but that one kid?!’ and so it can be challenging sometimes. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with you as the teacher. It has to do with stuff that is out of your control. If you care about what you do, the highs are really high and the lows can sometimes be really low,” said Mrs. G-J.
As Mrs. G-J and other teachers work to develop connection and rapport with their students, the weight of the job can move beyond campus and affect homelife. How do teachers handle it?
“I usually talk to fellow teachers that are retired, like friends, [or] Mr. G-J, my husband, and unload. [I] try to have somebody give a different perspective sometimes to help me see it differently or at least get it off my chest,” said Mrs. G-J.
Though there are hard times during teaching, it all pays off when teachers run into their former students at Starbucks or Victoria Gardens.
“When you run across these people that are all grown up and the young men have beards and the women are wearing makeup, they remember you and they say how much you made a difference for them. To me, that’s a success, that I was able to make a difference for somebody in a positive way, where they could still remember me even though I was their 4th, 6th, 7th, or 8th-grade teacher,” said Mrs. G-J.
Mr. O, a PE coach at Day Creek, has been teaching at Etiwanda for 33 years, including 5 years of 8th-grade math and science. He also coached volleyball and taught PE at Summit Intermediate for 10 years before moving to Day Creek in 2004.
“[The most challenging moment from my career has been] reading 8th-grade names at graduation,” said Mr. Ornelas.
As hard as it may seem for students to leave Day Creek Intermediate, Mr. O will also be leaving with memories that won’t fade.
“[My biggest success was] when we coached. I was over at Summit. We were undefeated three seasons with girls’ volleyball,” said Coach O.
While Mr. O and his volleyball team were undefeated, he also wrestled through some challenges.
“For all the kids who hate PE, I really wasn’t a team sports guy. I played football, wrestled and played baseball in high school, but I never really was a team sports guy,” he said.
In response, Mr. O began coaching with an intent for all kids to have a love for PE, as well as mastering how to turn off a “switch” from work and home.
“I got this big ‘switch,’ and when I hit the door, I turn it off. It’s something that takes practice, which you just gotta do, or else you’ll drive yourself crazy,” said Coach Ornelas.
We’ll miss you Mr. O!
Etiwanda’s superintendent, Dr. Judson, is also retiring after 20 years in his position. He started in 1987 at Windrows Elementary, teaching for six years before becoming an assistant principal, principal, principal, and Administrator of Personnel. Many unexpected challenges have come his way, yet he has found his career to be memorable and enjoyable.
“I really enjoy the challenges, even though it has been super challenging during the Covid pandemic. People say ‘Oh gosh, it has been so horrible for the schools and the districts to keep the students and the staff safe.’ To me, looking back, it has just been really showing the strengths of our district, in the way we work together and put the needs of our students first,” Dr. Judson said.
Those trials reflect the district’s resilience. Teachers and staff members have struggled through hardship with the support of the Etiwanda community.
“I am so grateful for the wonderful support we get from our families. You go to events at schools, and it is always crowded and there is never parking. Student’s families all just do a great job supporting and helping us work together to make sure kids have a great education,” he said.
The encouragement and support from the Etiwanda families and staff have helped the district receive multiple awards.
“I think there have been a lot of exciting moments. Every time a school is recognized or honored, that is very exciting. Day Creek being our first ever school to win a National Blue Ribbon School, followed by Lightfoot. Those were certainly very exciting times. Whenever we open up a new school or new facility, all that work and planning [pays off] when you see kids at school,” said Dr. Judson.
The Howl wishes well for all the teachers who have paved the way for the next generation. Finishing the last chapter in a good book is always a hard thing to do, but a new book is coming! Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication! We will deeply miss you!