The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 13, 2003


Four teachers retire after 110 years in Carlisle of teaching several generations of Carlisle kids

A large crowd gathered at the Union Hall on June 5 for a reception honoring the retirement of four long-serving Carlisle teachers. Debbie Dawson, outgoing CSA president, made a short presentation, thanking Esther Almgren, Margaret Bruell, Geraldine Madigan and David Mayall "for their 110 years of combined service to the Carlisle School." After the presentation, the guests, many of whom were former and current students of the retiring teachers, feasted on cake and refreshments.

Circles formed around each teacher as parents and former students vied for an opportunity to pass on their best wishes. Esther Almgren received a plum tree decorated with messages from her students. Several of Gerry Madigan's former students, now in high school, college and beyond, attended. Parent Elizabeth Cameron surprised David Mayall with a picture of her daughter Heather, who was in his first grade class in 1971. She also brought a current photo of Heather holding her baby, and a copy of an academic article her daughter, who is a medical researcher, authored. "That was quite a surprise," said Mayall.

"It was a warm time to share from across the years," said Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson. "We thank the CSA for putting together the retirement party." But the occasionb was also bittersweet. Fox-Melanson expressed her concerns saying, "We are losing key people, gifted people. We are coping, but it will take an enormous effort for the transition, both this year and next year, to build new teams."

Esther Almgren retires "while it's still fun"

Esther Almgren (Photo by Paul Anagnostopoulos)
When I joined Esther Almgren, she was still glowing from that morning's Author's Breakfast at which each of her first graders read to their parents one book they wrote, "published" on the computer, and illustrated. "I think this is so valuable," she said, showing me a few of the dozens of publications her students produced this year.

Having taught several grades, Almgren says "first grade is my favorite . . . Kids are like sponges at this age." She remembers the days when reading was taught largely from basal readers and workbooks, until teachers noticed there was little carryover from filling in the spaces to improved reading. "Now we teach reading strategies," she says.

She has taught for 24 years in Carlisle, and before that, in five other schools. She says of Carlisle, "This is a very satisfying place to work. It's where I worked the hardest, but it's hard to beat this place." She points to the "exceptional professional development" and an administration that has been "always supportive." But, says Almgren, "You need to move on while it's still fun and you're at the top of your game." She hopes to spend time fixing up her old house in Concord. But she also contemplates taking a new job, something less stressful, with shorter hours · maybe in a bookshop?

Whatever she chooses, the break with teaching will not be easy. Almgren says, "I catch myself saying 'We've got to do this next year.' Then I realize there is no next year."

She says to young teachers coming to Carlisle, "Know and enjoy the children. Get to know the parents, and let them support you. They want to do it, so let them help. Make sure the kids are happy and safe." For parents she has this advice, "Be an advocate for your child, but work (with the teacher) as a team. The teacher knows your child and his learning." She adds with a laugh, "And keep in mind the first thirty years of child-rearing are the hardest."

Gerry Madigan looks forward to travel, reading

Geraldine Madigan (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)
Fourth-grade teacher Geraldine Madigan has taught all grades in her 25 years in Carlisle, but discovered a true love for the fourth grade, especially the subjects of math and history. She found the changes after the 1993 education reform a challenge. The Carlisle School had to focus on working from state curriculum frameworks and keeping the curriculum aligned with the state requirements, she explained. She felt her challenge was to keep creativity in all the subjects while matching the educational requirements. The MCAS test has a large impact on how history is taught, she said, and she was disappointed the Massachusetts Department of Education changed the focus of history mid-year. Most people think of her as "math focused," she said, laughing, because she is fond of saying, "A day without math is like a day without sunshine."

"It's wonderful teaching here," she said, when asked what she would say to teachers starting fresh at the Carlisle School. "The kids are great, and the parents are wonderful." She advises new teachers to be well prepared, and organized.

Madigan has four children and five grandchildren, so her future plans include travels to Foxboro, Grosse Point, Michigan, and New Delhi, India to visit her extended family. She is thrilled that she will be able to read more than just the headlines in the New York Times and Boston Globe. "I can get to my pile of unread books," she said, and read more than just the cartoons in the New Yorker magazine.

Margaret Bruell will miss "community in the classroom"

Margaret Bruell (Photo by Paul Anagnostopoulos)
Margaret Bruell looks back on her 28 years of teaching in Carlisle and observes that, in spite of the changes, "There's still a community feeling here you don't have in many other schools."

"I used to know every child in the school." Now that there are twice as many students as when she started "it's hard to know all the kids the way we used to." Still, that community feeling persists. "There's a personal interest adults in the school community take in the kids. Parents are always supportive. I'm amazed at how they come out for events. That's something that's stayed the same."

But what has changed is "more homework, and more state regulation. That's a big change." When asked if it's for the better, Bruell replies, "There are pros and cons. There's less freedom to pursue special projects in the classroom. But what's being taught is valuable." She says math is one area in which there has been noticeable improvement. "Kids handle bigger numbers and can do more in their heads." Reading comprehension has also improved. "It used to be all phonics. Now we use more strategies to help students understand what they're reading."

For nine years, Bruell taught first grade, but found she enjoyed third graders because "they like to assume responsibility." A recent class play is an example. Although the students started with a script, they decided to rewrite the play, change the characters, and design their own props and scenery. "They became very invested," says Bruell. "My job was to step aside and let them go."

Bruell says there are many things she will miss about teaching. "I love getting to know the kids and the community within the classroom. Each year is different." She adds, "I'll also miss the people I work with." She hopes to use her skills to develop a part-time tutoring business working with adults. "Adult learners are often very motivated," she says, "and patient with the hum-drum aspects of learning. With kids you must keep moving, be flexible, and switch gears often."

To new teachers, Bruell offers this advice, "Teaching is like being a stewardess during meal-time. You have many different roles, one minute 'mom,' next minute 'CEO.'" She adds, "You need to be very organized and to be able to think about several things at once while dealing with constant interruptions."

Regarding her time in Carlisle, Bruell adds, "I've felt very supported, with wonderful room parents and volunteers. I had only to ask and people would jump in to help. It's been a wonderful place to work."

David Mayall saw many changes

Retiring teacher David Mayall, who has taught in Carlisle for thirty-five years, has seen many changes in both teaching methodologies and, of course, in his field, technology integration. In his early years he taught middle school English ("It was called 'Junior High' then," he said), and fourth grade for a few years, including a spell in the "open classroom system" of the seventies. "That was hard," he said, recalling how the avant-garde method turned many teachers away from education. He then taught middle school social studies for ten years, fifth grade for five years, and took a sabbatical in 1983, when he obtained his first computer, an Apple 2E. He taught fifth grade in the early 90s, splitting his time between teaching and technology integration. For the last six years he has worked full time in technology, supporting the teachers and students through the changes in computer hardware and software.

Mayall advises new teachers at the Carlisle School to "look for good role models." He says there are plenty at the school. "Look and see who is at school at 6:30 in the morning," he suggests. Study people who have been teaching at the school for a very long time and follow their examples, he adds.

Mayall's plans include being available to the Carlisle School for consultant work in technology. He says he wants to use his free time to exercise, and plans to run, kayak, and get into shape. He also said his wife is thrilled with the extra time he will have, as she has many home remodeling jobs. He looked a bit less happy with that plan, but thought it would also be a form of exercise.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito