Longtime SH educators reflect on careers

JEWELL – When the dismissal bell rings at South Hamilton on the last day of school for the 2013-14 school year, it will signal more than the beginning of another summer vacation for two veteran teachers there.

For Jim Klein and Joan Walker, it will be the end of decades of teaching at the school as they retire after a combined total of 85 years in education, 80 of them at South Hamilton.

While the educators teach at opposite ends of the public school-she in elementary and he in high school-both teachers agree that is has been a rewarding, fulfilling and challenging career that has satisfied their souls. With so many years at the same school, it has not been unusual for both Klein and Walker to have had several generations of the same family in their classroom. “It’s very humbling when kids say ‘my Dad/Mom said you were their favorite teacher,'” notes Klein, who has taught a wide variety of high school business classes during his 42 years at South Hamilton. Currently his teaching load is accounting and computer accounting, personal record keeping, yearbook, Junior Achievement 7, 8, and 9. Before South Hamilton, he was on the faculty for one year at Prairie City.

After teaching for four years at Cedar Rapids, Walker returned to the school where she graduated. For the past 26 years she has been in a second-grade classroom but also taught first grade for ten years and third grade for six years. A graduate of Waldorf College and Iowa Wesleyan College, she chose teaching “because I have always enjoyed working with children,” she says. “My sister, and former SH second grade teaching partner for 17 years, encouraged me to take some elementary education classes in college”

Teaching elementary school has been the right career for this educator. “What I enjoy the most is being able to help students complete another grade level, another portion of their education, as they continue to prepare for the ‘real world,” Walker said. “Teaching is what I hoped it would be.”

“I chose this as a career because I wanted to make an impact on young people,” remarked Klein, who graduated from Iowa Falls High School, Ellsworth Junior College, and Simpson College. ” In teaching, I have experienced the highest ups and lowest downs, and to this day I still can get up in the morning and not dread going to work. Every day is different, and it’s filled with all kinds of surprises.”

Along with the surprises, there are many highlights that stand out from these long teaching careers. And most of them center on the people who have been with them along the way. “I’ve had the opportunity to get to know so many young people throughout my career,” Walker states. “And I have been fortunate to have had so many wonderful people to work with–parents, administrators, teachers, para-educators, secretaries, school nurses, cooks, and on and on.”

Walker’s years at South Hamilton have brought with them many memories, of course, including what she terms a special thing: four of her teaching co-workers are former students of hers. “And being able to tell people that is so much fun!” she remarks, adding that it’s also fun to run into former students and find out what they are doing in the real world.

Klein, too, makes note of his colleagues over the years. “It was my privilege to teach for many years with Mrs. Ilene Pohlman, just about the best co-worker ever. We were like the mom and dad to the business department for a long time.” Morning chats with the guys in Room B3 also stand out for him. “We daily solved any problem this world had,” he chuckles. “There wasn’t anything we could not figure out.”

The business teacher will also be remembered for coordinating the South Hamilton prom for the past 25 years. And he has coached scores of young athletes in high school boys and girls cross country and track plus girls basketball, track, and softball. “Everyone was a part of all the teams I had a chance to coach,” Klein relates with a touch of pride. “I was very blessed to have had the chance to coach many outstanding athletes. It was very rewarding seeing them make it through a tough season even though they weren’t the star, and for others to see them make it to the ultimate goal of state competition.”

Of course, there are many memories from the classroom in four decades of teaching. Walker says a highlight for her is “being fortunate to have had so many young people throughout my career.”

Best memories in the classroom for Klein? He says he will “always remember the student who didn’t know a debit from a credit, and in 18 weeks was preparing income statements. And I have had at least ten kids go on to get their CPA certification.

“And I remember those times when my colleagues left this earth way too soon. . . good people who never got a chance to grow old in education at SHHS,” he continues. “But I think maybe one of the biggest things I will remember will be the fact that SH is a destination, not a stopping point, for educators.”

Do these veteran educators feel like they’ve made a difference? “I certainly hope I have made a difference!” Walker answers. “I have dedicated my years in education to doing my best to meet the needs of my students.”

It’s the same for Klein. “I really feel like I maybe did touch some lives because school/athletics are still a topic of conversation when I get together with those kids.”

The satisfaction these two retiring teachers have found in their long careers is clear and perhaps most evident as they consider whether they would recommend teaching as a career. “I definitely recommend teaching,” Walker notes. “It is very rewarding to watch students grow academically and know that you, the teacher, helped in a big way to make that possible.”

“If one likes to make an impact on today’s youth, then teaching is for you,” Klein said. “If you can jump over all the hurdles that will be placed in front of you, knowing you have a chance to make a difference, then teaching is for you. It’s long hours and lots of cheers and tears, but very rewarding.”