May 22—Forty years is a long time to hold down one job, especially 40 years in a Catholic elementary school.
Still, Laura Schroeder said she couldn't be happier about spending those 40 years at St. Mary's Catholic School in Leipsic. Her incredible work streak ends this week, when she retires at the end of the school year.
"I'll admit it: I'm not going to miss the work," Schroeder said, chuckling. "I will miss the kids. When I'm out in public, I'll get a 'Hi, Mrs. Schroeder' when I'm walking down the street. That's going to be fading away when they're not having me anymore. That part, I'm going to miss that."
Over the years, she's gotten to know what she calls "my kids," teaching third through seventh grades over the years. This year, she taught a combined third- and fourth-grade class. She's on the second generation of many families, recognizing that moms who were good at grammar tend to have daughters who are good at grammar, and fathers who struggled with their multiplication facts have sons who struggle too.
"It usually doesn't take very long to pick them out," Schroeder said. "We have an open house at the beginning of each school year, and a lot of former students will tell their kids, 'This was my third-grade teacher' or 'She was my fifth-grade teacher.' It's neat to see them and know I get to teach their children."
Sarah Pester was one of those former students. She eventually got to call Schroeder her colleague and friend.
"My first whole year, I kept calling her 'Mrs. Schroeder,' and she kept telling me 'You can call me Laura," said Pester, a former student who taught 11 years alongside her. "It was kind of nice because I already kind of knew her. She became my mentor."
Pester was impressed with the way Schroeder kept giving to her classes beyond the basic expectations. For instance, she'd bring breakfast for students she knew didn't have it. She often stayed after school to tutor children who needed extra help. She bought books for children in her class, asking them which book they wanted, ordering it and putting it in the classroom library. She'd always earmark it for the child who asked for it, Pester said.
A major part of what kept her teaching at St. Mary's was the opportunity to teach Catholicism, Schroeder said. She earned a master's degree in theology from the University of Dayton courtesy of the school. She converted from being a Lutheran after she married and really fell in love with her faith.
"I love teaching religion classes," Schroeder said, "so that's what kind of hooked me."
She was always helpful with her theological knowledge, Pester said.
"She is the go-to person there with questions about Catholicism or what you're teaching in religion," Pester said. "Everyone goes to Laura."
It's been a rewarding career for the grandmother of six who said "I think God had a little hand" in getting the job in the first place. She'd talked to a past pastor at the church after a baptism class for her daughter who knew she'd received a teaching degree. When she said no, he sent her across the street to the school to apply, where she was quickly hired.
She's seen a lot of change over the years, particularly with the inclusion of so much technology in the classroom. She laughed about showing her class a dictionary recently to a group of students more accustomed to the "unlimited resources" of children who can Google the right answer. She said she's backed off on how much homework she gives, as she's realized children are busier outside school than ever before.
She hopes to keep up with some students through her part-time job at the Putnam County Family YMCA in Ottawa. Even if she won't be their teacher anymore, they'll always be her students.
"When you have a student, even after they go on, they're still your student," Schroeder said. "You read about the high school students in sports and doing successful things. You read about college kids graduating and think, 'That was one of my students.' That's the family-ness that I loved. Once they're mine, they're mine. I'll miss that connection to them."
David Trinko is managing editor of The Lima News. Reach him at 567-242-0467, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.