Archive for Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Junior high science teacher retires

Brenda Shaw moving to Olathe junior high school as a counselor

June 8, 2005

Last week Brenda Shaw packed up her Tonganoxie classroom for the last time.

After 32 years as a Tonganoxie teacher and counselor, and most recently as an eighth-grade science teacher, Shaw is retiring from the school district.

However, her career is continuing. Shaw has accepted a job as a counselor at Olathe's Oregon Trails Junior High School.

Shaw explained she's changing school districts because of a state law that would cap her post-retirement salary at $15,000 annually, if she continued teaching in the Tonganoxie school district. Teachers can get around the cap by going to work in another district where they can earn a full salary.

Shaw's husband, Bill Shaw, experienced this last year when he retired from teaching in Tonganoxie and went to work for the De Soto school district.

Starting as a para

Brenda Shaw, who met her husband when they were students at Benedictine College in Atchison, earned a bachelor of science degree in history. She didn't plan to become a classroom teacher.

But when the couple moved to Tonganoxie in 1971, Shaw began working as a paraeducator at the elementary school.

Lee Smith, who was elementary school principal, encouraged Shaw to return to college to obtain her teaching certificate.

After taking classes at Kansas University for two summers and two semesters, Shaw received her teaching credentials and began teaching kindergarten.

Later she returned to college again, and in 1983 graduated from KU with a master's in counseling psychology.

For 12 years she worked as a counselor for students in kindergarten through ninth grade.

Back to the classroom

She recalls the switch back to teaching.

"Science has always interested me," Shaw said. "When Leona Sparks (a science teacher) retired, she walked into my office one day and said do you still want to teach? Well -- here we are."

Shaw said she enjoyed working with junior high students.

"I really, really like junior high kids," Shaw said. "They are new every day and they're enthusiastic and they're bouncy, lots of energy. If you channel it right they do well, and they're still loving, they really are."

But the teaching profession has taken on more challenges in recent years, Shaw said. Among them are mandates that mean more paperwork for teachers, more events interrupting regular classroom work, and general changes in society, she explained.

For instance, Shaw said that in recent years she noticed that it was harder to get the students to stay on task.

"We've got more and more distractions and interruptions in our day that break up the flow," Shaw said. "... From announcements in the middle of the day to pulling a kid out to go to a track meet at 2 o'clock. It's so hard to get junior high kids to focus anyway."

And, Shaw said she's concerned because students don't seem to have as many connections to the community as they used to. It worries her that students may go home to unsupervised houses after school, because their parents may be working.

"The world's changing. It's just a bigger and more dangerous place, I think," Shaw said, pausing before adding with a chuckle, "But maybe I'm just getting old -- I'm starting to sound like my grandmother."

Setting goals

Shaw, who grew up as a military child, said she enjoys change.

"In growing up I went to 12 different schools," Shaw said. "Then I came and lived in Tonganoxie for 30-some years, I thought that would never happen."

Though the Shaws still live in the same house they moved into as newlyweds in 1971, their home has a different appearance than it did when they bought it.

"It is constantly under renovation," Shaw said, smiling. "I'm a firm believer that what's important is the journey -- it's not the getting there. When you accomplish a goal, you set a new one."

Shaw's three sons have all attended school in Tonganoxie. Evan, 26, is an architect in Des Moines, Phillip, 24, is a musician in St. Paul, Minn., and Michael, 16, will be a junior at Tonganoxie High School this fall.

The couple plan to continue living in Tonganoxie. And in fact, Brenda said it's likely she and Bill will drive to work together, as she can drop him off at his school on her way to Olathe.

In the meantime, she has a couple of months to adjust to the idea that she'll no longer be a Tonganoxie faculty member.

Last week Shaw turned in her keys to the school.

"It was OK," she said. "I think I'm really ready for this. The only time I cried was at the junior high's retirement party. That got to me, there were all the people I had known for years and had worked with for years, we'd struggled together for years."

While Shaw is looking forward to her new job, it's with a touch of sadness that she's leaving the Tonganoxie school district.

"I would have liked to have stayed here rather than seek a new job," Shaw said.

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