LEXINGTON – Even as a little girl, Mary Smith was already preparing for her future career.
“I knew right away,” Smith said about knowing at an early age she wanted to grow up to be an elementary school teacher. “I was always playing teacher since I was a little girl.”
After 36 years of teaching, with her first four years spent teaching in Fullerton, Neb., and the rest in Lexington elementary schools Sandoz and Morton, Smith said she was looking forward to some free time after her retirement at the end of the school year in May, but could see herself continuing to work with students.
“I will spend the fall golfing, do some traveling and I will probably sub (substitute teach) after Christmas,” Smith said about her plans after retirement.
One of the biggest changes in the classroom environment since she started teaching was the growing use of technology, Smith said.
“Technology is such a big part of education. When I started there were no computers in class. Curriculums were the same,” Smith said.
Differentiated teaching and trying to reach each student at their learning level was a constant part of a teachers’ job, she said.
Smith advised younger teachers to adopt a flexible approach in the classroom.
“Have great imagination,” she said. “Find what schedule works for you.”
After serving as the HOSTS (Helping One Student To Succeed) Coordinator at Morton Elementary School for the last 10 years, Smith said a rewarding part of her job was watching students improve their reading skills as they work with their high school and adult reading mentors.
“They work on the same concept for a week and by Thursday hearing them tell their mentors ‘Oh, I get it,’ or ‘This is easy,’” was rewarding, Smith said.
Smith said the one-on-one attention the students get with a reading mentor through the HOSTS program helps students to build up their vocabulary and ultimately become more proficient readers.
“So many mentors comment on the improvement they have seen,” with their HOSTS students, Smith said. “It’s amazing the words they don’t understand that we take for granted.”
Smith said she would miss her connections with students and teachers once she retires.
“I’ll miss the kids. The strong relationships with teachers,” she said. “When you wake up and go to a job you love it’s not work. That’s kind of how HOSTS has been.”