Profession altered; love for children unchanged

There was one reason a Cortland Elementary School teacher decided to go into teaching.

She loved working with young children, Natalie Fish said.

After 35 years in education, though, things aren’t what they used to be, she added, and being a teacher is a bigger challenge than ever before.

Fish said her love of children hasn’t changed since she began at Cortland in 1980, but she knew this year would be her last.

“My decision to retire was a hard one to make,” she said. “I still love the kids, but all the testing and changing curriculum and state mandates made it hard to enjoy doing what I thought we should be doing.”

Advances in technology in the classroom over the years also proved to be a big change for her to adapt to, she said.

Ten teachers and staff members at Seymour Community School Corp. retired this school year, saying goodbye to students and co-workers after a combined 231½ years of service.

Other retirees are Wayne Huddleston, 40 years as a math teacher at Seymour Middle School; Brenda Wagner, 38 years as a speech and language pathologist; Bev Ruddick, 38 years as an administrative assistant at SMS; Betty Kiste, 31 years in food service; Mary Sheppard, 17½ years as an administrative assistant at SMS; Pat Kriete, 13 years in food service; Barb Hayes, 11 years as a classroom instructional assistant; Carol Killion, seven years as a bus driver; and Kathy Boone, one year as a custodian.

Fish has been a fixture at Cortland. She even taught her own children and nieces and nephews because Cortland, at that time, had only one class at each grade level.

“It was hard for them not to call me Mom or Aunt Natalie,” she said.

She spent two years teaching kindergarten and then nine years in third and fourth grade. For the past 24 years, she has remained in a fourth-grade classroom.

“I enjoy fourth grade because I like teaching multiplication facts, Indiana history, and the kids enjoy doing the projects,” she said. “They are pretty independent at this age.”

But not so independent that they still don’t enjoy it when their teacher reads to them, she added.

“I love reading to them … because they get it and respond to the stories,” she said.

When she was a fourth-grader herself, Fish said, she had a great teacher, Alice Thompson, who would become her role model. Throughout her teaching career, she said she developed other mentors, too, including, Bobbi Speaker, Katie Hunsucker, Leon Seitz, Jewell Hamblin and Pam Lynch.

“I enjoyed working with all of these teachers,” she said. “I learned many things from these people over the years. They helped guide me and made coming to work exciting.”

Cortland Principal Diane Altemeyer said she is proud of Fish’s willingness to try new things.

“Her leadership and experience will be what we miss most,” Altemeyer said. “Thirty-five years of experience brings a lot to the table when collaborating with colleagues and helping students achieve.”

With her years of teaching complete, Fish said, she is ready to relax and take time for herself.

“My plans are to enjoy this summer with my three children, their families and my three grandchildren,” she said. “I will love being able to just sit and read a book and know that there aren’t any papers to grade or lesson plans to make.”

But there are aspects she will miss.

“I will miss the kids and people I work with every day,” she said. “The projects and responses from the kids and their teaching me things will be missed, also.”

She has words of wisdom for teachers who are frustrated with the current state of public education.

“New teachers need to hang in there and do what is best for their kids,” she said. “Things will change again.”

There are rewards from teaching that can’t be measured in pay or special recognitions, she added.

“The smiles on your students’ faces and the look in their eyes make it all worth it,” she said. “It is great seeing them grasp a concept and feel great about knowing new things.”

When you’re a teacher, you learn just as much as you teach, Fish said, and she is thankful for all of the young students who have “taught” her over the years.

“I would tell my kids, ‘Thanks for teaching me the things you have,’” she said. “It’s a two-way street, and I have learned as much from them as they have from me. All of these kids made me the teacher I am today.”

At a glance

Seymour Community School Corp. retirees for 2015

Wayne Huddleston — 40 years, Seymour Middle School math teacher

Brenda Wagner — 38 years, speech and language pathologist

Bev Ruddick — 38 years, administrative assistant at SMS

Natalie Fish — 35 years, Cortland Elementary School fourth-grade teacher

Betty Kiste — 31 years, food service

Mary Sheppard — 17½ years, administrative assistant at SMS

Pat Kriete — 13 years, food service

Barb Hayes — 11 years, classroom instructional assistant

Carol Killion — 7 years, bus driver

Kathy Boone — 1 year, custodian

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.