What has your teaching career taught you?

Growing up in Willowbrook, Barbara Dawes was familiar with many of the schools in neighboring Hinsdale. But her childhood bike rides never reached The Lane School, so getting there for a job interview in the pre-GPS era proved a challenging assignment.

"I almost passed it by," Dawes confessed.

That was 34 years ago. On June 2, Dawes will dismiss her first-grade class for the final time, thankful for her "hidden gem" of a workplace and the hundreds of lives she's come alongside during her tenure.

"I can't say enough about the wonderful kids that go here, the supportive parents and all my colleagues," she said. "It's been like a home away from home for me."

The second week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week, an especially poignant occasion this year for Dawes, who taught third grade her first 17 years at The Lane before moving to first grade. Leading a classroom was her dream profession.

"I always wanted to be a teacher, since I was a kid," Dawes said. "I can name every one of my elementary school teachers and tell you something about them. They made such an impression on me."

Because school openings were less plentiful in the 1980s, however, Dawes earned a bachelor's degree in business finance as a fall-back.

"But I went right back to school and got my masters in teaching," she said.

She began at Gower West - her alma mater - followed by a year teaching in Villa Park before she found a permanent home with the Bulldogs.

Since Dawes started there, the school has shifted from the open-concept design of her early years and has doubled in size. And while curriculum and instructional methods have periodically changed, reading with the children - augmented with dramatic intonation and facial expressions - has been a constant.

"That's what I'm probably going to miss the most is reading every day to the children," she said.

By Dawes' calculation she's had 766 different pupils under her tutelage. Last fall she reached out to former students with a request that they update her on their journeys in life and share a favorite memory from their year in her class. The responses she's received (and still accepting at The Lane) have filled her with pride.

"When I look at these kids – who are in their 30's now - and what they're doing with their lives," Dawes said, becoming emotional, "it's amazing."

Worried that the announcement of her retirement at the start of the year would give families a false notion of her commitment level, she made clear it would be a farewell tour to remember.

"I told (Principal Brandon Todd) I was going to finish strong," Dawes said. "I like to think I'm going out at the top of my game,"

Travel and other plans await in retirement - but don't be surprised if that substitute next year looks familiar.

"Being a teacher is not just what I do, it is who I am, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked in education for all of these years," she said.

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean