Teacher retires with memories to treasure

Madison School's Nancy Kramer may lead a second-grade class, but her handle among students references her other pursuit: the Dog Teacher.

"Because I foster dogs and train dogs and rescue dogs," she explained. "My world is dogs."

After 35 years, Kramer is leaving the world of elementary education. She admits her farewell tour leading up to retirement has been emotional at times, but light on packing since she was able to clean out her three decades worth of stuff last spring following her final run in fourth grade.

"This year I'm pretty much organizing all of the materials for next year's second-grade teacher," Kramer said. "Thankfully I don't have to try to get rid of everything now. I donated thousands of books to SCARCE (recycling organization) last year."

The child of a teacher, Kramer as teen was drawn to youth development.

"During high school I became a camp counselor. At church I was a Sunday school teacher, even at age 14 and 15. I have always known that I wanted to be with kids," she said.

She knew she'd reached a career milestone when one her former fourth-grade students came back as her substitute.

"That was really cool," Kramer recalled.

Aside from a 7-year stint at The Lane, Madison has been home for Kramer. The process of going through her carefully preserved lesson archives reinforced how closely she identifies with the profession.

"It's who you are and you're attached to it, and everything you touch holds a memory," she said.

She fondly recalled the Ellis Island simulation in which students dressed up as immigrants of the late 18th century.

"They got to experience what it was like going to a strange country, and we would speak to them in a made-up language so that they didn't understand what we were saying about them. We would send them to doctors, and they'd have to stand in line forever," Kramer recounted.

She faithfully gave her students a keepsake book at the end of each year "so the children have all of their writings from the year," she said.

Kramer cited a past student who had struggled with writing in third grade. Years later he came back to visit.

"He said, 'I became a lawyer, and writing is my favorite thing to do'," she recounted.

Bringing enthusiasm and an openness to kids' unique learning styles have been hallmarks of Kramer's approach. And she's remained a student herself.

"I evolved in knowing and learning all the curriculums and preparing to meet (students') needs, and my knowledge of teaching strategies and how to best reach them as learners," she said.

Her livelihood even inspired her own kids.

"They wanted to be the student getting the good grades. I never had to say, 'Is your homework done?' "

Retirement will be full of dog-related activity, of course, as well as logging miles in a camper between her children in Cape Coral, Fla., and Phoenix.

Kramer encouraged beginning teachers to let students know they care about their growth.

"When they respect you and know that you have their best interest at heart, they want to work harder," she said.

- story by Ken Knutson, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean