With this month signaling the end of another school year, 55-year-old Sharon Connell now has put 33 years in the books as an educator, including the last 31 years at Lonedell R-XIV.
The longtime teacher has one more year to go as she said the 2012-2013 academic year will be her last. But, she said retirement isn’t necessarily the best thing for her.
Connell is Lonedell School’s Title I teacher and works with pupils in different grades on an individual or small-group basis. It’s a job she loves and really isn’t ready to give up, but changes to the teacher retirement system in Missouri have made that decision for her.
“This is the perfect job for me,” Connell said one recent day shortly after she worked with three kindergartners — Carter Short, Jayden Fitzgerald and Abby Tharp — on recognizing sight words. “In fact, I think I have the best job.
“Don’t get me wrong, I loved having my own classroom, but this is great. I get to work with kids one on one or one on two.
“You get to teach. You get to help. But with what I get to do, you get to be able to spend the individual time with the kids to reinforce the learning.”
Making the job even better are two other factors. Connell loves to read and she loves the Lonedell R-XIV School District.
“I’m an avid reader, that’s for sure,” she said. “So getting to help students with reading is the best thing there is. Teaching kids to love to read is what I’m all about. I try to do that by showing them how neat it is, how fun it is.
“It’s all about the excitement of reading. When you can tell a kid is excited about reading, how great is that?”
Connell said one of her favorite things is when students come up to her and ask her to read their shirt. She said sometimes the youngsters wear special shirts just so she can read them.
“That’s excitement about reading,” she said. “I’ve also had students come to me and tell me I have to read this certain book. They’re engaged in the reading process. They enjoy it. They want to do it. That’s what it’s all about.”
Getting to do her job in Lonedell makes it even more special for her.
“I love this school, these people,” she said. “A smaller school setting like this is perfect.
“I recommend to anyone going into education to work in a smaller school. Lonedell is like a family from top to bottom. We all know each other.
“After all these years, I still love coming to work here every day. We have a great little school here.”
Connell said she probably would consider teaching beyond next year, but if she does, she said because of changes in the state system she will receive less retirement income than she will if she retires after next year.
“So, the state really made the decision for me,” she said. “It will be tough to not be here in a lot of ways, but in some ways I’m looking forward to it.
“I’ve always wanted to retire before I burn out, but I’m not burned out yet. But there are other things I look forward to having time to do.”
Connell, who lives in St. Clair, was born in Jefferson City and lived in St. James and Wentzville, where she graduated from high school.
She earned a bachelor of science degree in elementary education with a course emphasis in early childhood from Central Missouri State College, which is now the University of Central Missouri.
She taught kindergarten for two years in Cuba before coming to Lonedell where she was hired to teach kindergarten. For more than 20 years, she taught kindergarten and first grade, switching back and forth every few years.
She has been the Title I teacher in the district for four years. She concentrates mainly on assisting with reading skills, but also helps students with math.
“Since we are a Title I school, I get to work with any kid who needs help,” Connell said.
In doing so, she either “pushes into” a classroom, where she actually is in a classroom setting and helps students “then and there” who are struggling, or she “pulls out,” where youngsters are removed from a class where the individual or small-group instruction takes place.
She assists kindergartners, second-, third- and fifth-grade pupils who mostly need some extra attention. She does have one group of advanced kindergartners.
“At first, I didn’t want to give up having an actual classroom of kids,” she said. “I mean, I kept thinking, ‘These are my kids.’ I didn’t want to give that up. But, of course, it was the best move for me. Getting to do what I do now is the best.”
Connell said the fifth-grade students she works with this year were pupils of hers during the final year she was a classroom teacher.
“The way it’s set up for me now, I get to work with a lot of the same kids year after year,” she said. “I get to see their progress. I don’t teach them one year and then move on. I get to help them longer, and I love that. You really get to know them.”
She also said she enjoys the fact that some students she taught during her earlier years now have children of their own in the Lonedell district.
“It’s such a neat thing,” she said. “I taught Carter Short’s dad (Dan, now a Lonedell school board member). It’s fun to be with the children of parents you taught. The generation thing is neat.
“That’s one of the reasons why retirement will be difficult.”
Connell said her passion is books.
“I read every single day,” she said. “I have tons of them at home, both children’s and adult books.
“But it’s more than just reading to me. I read for enjoyment but I also read to gain knowledge. I read to learn.
“I even have shirts that say ‘read’ on them. The kids like those.”
Connell said among the things she never will forget about being a teacher is the first time she had a student tell her that he did not like to read.
“He’s in high school now,” she said. “But when he told me he didn’t enjoy reading, it really bothered me. I still think about that.
“I mean, I enjoy it so much and I want to share that passion. He’s doing very well now, and of course he can read. He just said he didn’t like it, and I couldn’t understand that.”
Reading was something that was “always there” when Connell was growing up.
“When I was a kid, my older brother was a reader,” she said. “I read, too. I’ve always loved it.”
She said her sister also loved books so much that she became a librarian.
“My grandma always told me to be a kindergarten teacher,” Connell said. “When I was in high school, I worked at a nursery school, and it fit. So, I decided to pursue teaching the younger kids.
“It really has been the best of both worlds teaching and getting to teach kids reading.”
Connell said, however, that even though technology has “advanced” reading and the ability to teach it to new heights, she prefers personal reading the old-fashioned way.
“Technology is a wonderful teaching tool,” she said. “It’s done wonders. IPads and smartboards help make reading even more fun, and there are so many websites and games to help with reading. Kids don’t realize they’re learning because they’re enjoying it so much.
“Technology has been great to help teach reading, even if I haven’t embraced it yet myself.
“I’ve thought about getting a Kindle,” she said. “But I haven’t. I still hold the book and read it. It’s how I like it.”
After leaving R-XIV, Connell said she hopes to be able to do some of the other things she enjoys, like swimming, working in her garden and with her church and “spoiling my dog.”
But she also said she may some time in the future pursue working with younger children again.
“After I retire, I wouldn’t mind going back and working with 4-year-olds in some capacity,” she said. “But, I’ll worry about that at this time next year.
“But for now, this is really ... yeah. ... This is it.”