MIDDLEBURY — Carol Callahan has divided her attention among up to 20 children for each of the past 30 years.
Now Callahan, 65, is ready to downsize her “brood” — a.k.a. her students at Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary School, where she has taught since the early 1980s. Callahan will be retiring this year in order to travel and devote more time to a new young person in her life — her granddaughter Daisy, who will celebrate her first birthday next month.
While 65 is just a number, Callahan joked that her body has been sending her signals that it might be time to call it a career.
“I can’t run faster than them anymore,” she said of her students, which have ranged from first- to fourth-graders throughout the tenure.
“I used to race in the snow with them and still beat them — but not anymore.”
Hard to believe.
While some frosty strands accent her blond hair, Callahan still has a jump in her step and possesses a youthful approach to teaching.
“Let them keep the wonder, and help them organize,” she said of her educational philosophy.
Callahan began her teaching career with short stints at the Montessori School in Middlebury and Beeman Elementary in New Haven. She enjoyed the work, and moved on to fill a vacancy at the Mary Hogan School in 1982.
Her tenure there was almost very short-lived. After teaching for just a year, Callahan was told she would have to give up her position to a more senior teacher returning from a sabbatical. Callahan began applying for other job vacancies in the district when fortunately, a new slot opened up on the Mary Hogan School staff. She snapped it up.
“I was happy to get a job,” she recalled.
The rest, as they say, has been history — a subject that Callahan has taught her young charges, along with such other subjects as social studies, English, math and her favorite, science.
She has appreciated her students’ inquisitiveness.
“Children have that natural sense of wonder and joyfulness,” Callahan said. “They are like sponges.”
She has never felt the urge to teach older children, preferring to stick with the early grades.
“This is such an important time,” she said, referring to the early, formative years in a child’s life for building knowledge.
The building blocks for imparting that knowledge have advanced greatly during Callahan’s time at the Mary Hogan School.
Callahan’s arrival on the scene coincided with the release of the Commodore 64, an 8-bit home computer. She recalled students (as well as her son, Eli) being mesmerized by a sampling of those devices when they were introduced into the school’s computer lab.
“Within a year or two, I was running a computer club on the Commodore 64,” said Callahan, whose son was so inspired he became a computer programmer.
Now, of course, the Commodore 64 is day-before-yesterday’s technology. Students now have access to more sophisticated computers, educational software and, of course, the Internet.
While computers have strengthened students’ minds, they have softened their bodies, Callahan noted. She has noted that kids are increasingly becoming heavier as a result of living a more sedentary lifestyle.
“Children are spending more time on the computer, with all the games, and they are not going outside enough,” Callahan lamented.
To compensate a little, Callahan has placed a great premium on getting her students moving through activities outside of the classroom.
Inside the classroom, she has encouraged her students to develop their own theories in response to questions, rather than simply telling them what’s right or wrong.
“You drive them to a greater conceptual understanding,” Callahan said.
When she packs up her supplies for the last time this June, Callahan will leave Mary Hogan School with many fond memories. She will miss her students and colleagues.
What is perhaps then most important lesson she taught her students?
“To be joyful and appreciative of what they learn,” Callahan said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]