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There are five teachers who are retiring following years of service to the Taylorville School District. Here are profiles of those retirees:
by Elyse Clayton
This is the last time you’re going to teach this lesson.
The thought crossed his mind many times throughout the year as he led his classes through the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, dived into the poetry of Robert Frost, or picked apart a chapter of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”
After 20 years with Taylorville High School’s English department, Stephen Steele looks forward to retirement upon the completion of the 2023 yearbook in July. Though students nowadays associate him with the 11 and 11A English classes, he worked with 12 and 12A segments for the first few years. Steele has also taught journalism for all 20 years, advising the production of the monthly school newspaper (the Zephyr) and the annual yearbook (the Drift).
“There’s very rarely a day that I don’t look forward to coming in,” Steele said. “To me, teaching is not work. Because I literally love it. And I love being up in front of the classroom and connecting with students. I’m going to miss that.”
Steele attests that he’ll miss everything about teaching. Well, everything save for grading papers. He especially loves exploring Romantic authors, like Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne, with his classes because of their optimism.
“I think as far as a book, as odd as it might sound, I love teaching ‘The Scarlet Letter,’” Steele answered when asked his favorite lesson to teach. “Because so many people just put a block on it, you know, because of the way it’s worded. But once you get into it and you look at Hawthorne as a Romantic author and how all of that plays into it, there’s just so much to it other than just a story.”
Just as so many of his lessons are about more than just stories, Steele sees teaching as more than just a job.
“I have always viewed teaching as a privilege, not a job,” he said. “That’s why every day I come in wearing a tie and everything. To be given the opportunity to stand in front of a classroom every day and hopefully impact young people’s lives in some way, to me that’s been a privilege.”
Teaching was not Steele’s first career, though. He welded at Caterpillar Tractor Company for 13 years, had a stint as a professional musician and worked at the Breeze-Courier. But he returned to his love of reading and writing, teaching for two years at a school in Las Vegas before THS.
“I said whenever I first went into teaching, in one of my teacher education classes, I want to be one of those teachers that, whenever kids are way out of school, they look back and say that’s the teacher,” he said. “I just want to have positively impacted students’ lives.”
Steele is still focused on finishing the yearbook before he starts his retirement, so his plans are up in the air. He said he’s always wanted to teach college, and he also wants to spend some time traveling. Moving forward, he’ll always carry with him lessons his students have taught him.
“I think what I learned from students is just the value of persevering through problems,” he said. “Especially with journalism, just watching the students work through the problems and really be dedicated to finishing the product, that has been inspiring to me.”
Steele has been going through all of the bittersweet moments of retirement as he waits for his students to wrap up the yearbook. Once the final pages are sent off, he will hand in his keys and start this new chapter.
“At least for me, teaching is a constant improvement,” Steele said. “Every time I teach a lesson, I’m already thinking, okay, the next time I want to do this, the next time I want to change this. By the time we get finished with the yearbook in the summer, everybody’s kind of, okay, we’ve had enough of the yearbook. But by the time we finish that, inside, I’m thinking, let’s do it again. Let’s get started on the next one. And for this year, when we finish the yearbook, there won’t be that. It’ll just be, okay, we’re done. And that’s it.”
by Lucas Domonousky
TAYLORVILLE — The official last day of school for TCUSD#3 students, faculty and staff was this past Thursday, May 25. Of those staff members a handful had decided to retire one of them being Mrs. Pamela DeWerff.
College was always in the cards for DeWerff. She began by attending Lake Land College to obtain her Associate’s degree in Zoology and Biology. She transferred to Eastern Illinois University in 1986 and graduated in 1989 with her Bachelor’s Degree in Science Education. DeWerff was in the Zoology/Botany club, a National Science Teaching Association student member and Academic Honor Society in Biology.
DeWerff hopped right from EIU in Charleston to Stonington in the school year 1989/’90. There she taught science classes ranging from 6th grade all the way up to sophomore level.
She then hopped over to Central A&M.
“A friend of mine talked me into going over there because, at the time, I lived closer to Assumption.” Said DeWerff. “So Central A&M was appealing and the first year they consolidated I was teaching there.”
She taught Biology and Calculus at the school for three years before unfortunate circumstances actually landed her in the community of Taylorville.
“My husband’s grandmother passed away,” Mrs. DeWerff stated. “Bernie Salisbury gave me a call. Luckily she called me again and I took the job in Taylorville.”
She started her years as a TJHS staff member in 1995/’96. She was a science teacher at the Jr. High and also coached varsity volleyball at the High School.
Many aspects of the Taylorville Jr. High drew DeWerff to the school. A big one for her was the teamwork which was engrained into the students and staff.
“They had a middle school concept of taking the Jr. High and split them into smaller communities or teams.” Says DeWerff. “So I was able to work with a team of teachers and I really liked that whole idea. That’s why I came.”
One of the biggest memories came in 2015 when Mrs. Rosanne Hobbs and her came together to apply for the Monsanto grant America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education. Taylorville was approved for the funds of $20,000 for application of real world concepts using their newly formed underwater robotics program.
“We spent a long time working on that thing and won $20,000 dollars.” She said. “That was a really big deal. It kind of helped get everything off the ground with the underwater robotics program.”
Possibly her fondest memory however was getting to teach alongside her daughter Megan Rhodes in 2018.
With twenty-five years in the education field there’s bound to be people and experiences left out. Moving forward Mrs. DeWerff will have no problem leaving out the newest addition to the family in her grand-daughter.
“Well, I coached volleyball and have a grand-daughter now so I’m gonna be coaching her.” She said. “I’m looking forward to seeing her grow up.”
By Kim Paisley-Jones
Breeze Courier writer
TAYLORVILLE — Mrs. Jayne Mazzotti is retiring after 22 years of teaching French and Spanish in the Taylorville school system.
Mazzotti is a 1970 graduate of Taylorville High School. She is married to Jack Mazzotti and the couple are the parents of twin children; Erica and Anthony.
Mazzotti graduated from the University of Illinois, majoring in French.
She began her teaching career later in life, after her children were about ten years old. She began at the Taylorville Jr. High School where she taught both French and Spanish for approximately 15 years.
After that, she dually taught at the junior high school and the senior high school; both French and Spanish. She finished her last eight years of teaching just at the high school.
When asked about what a favorite memory of teaching, Mazzotti said “I think my favorite memory is the reaction of the students faces when we walked into the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis. I took them to see a musical there and loved seeing their faces light up at the sight of that beautiful venue.”
Mazzotti said she will definitely miss all her students. “I’ll miss the experience of seeing them light up when they begin speaking the language with each other. I will miss the looks on their faces when they viewed a video of contemporary singers and dancers. French is a beautiful language. So much of our elegant life comes in the form of French influence. It has been such fun to see their faces when they realize that so much of who we are is a gift from the French.”
Mazzotti said she hopes that her legacy is one related to teaching the students about culture rather than just translating word for word from French to American or American to French. “Though we are American, who we are comes from so many sources whom have come together to create this nation. Travel is a way of enriching yourself and broadening yourself. To know another language is to know another soul. Through travel we become familiar with those places. We enrich our experiences. In a sense, we almost develop another soul. Not only every individual is different; but every country is different. You become a little bit less self-centered when you broaden your horizons. My hope is that the kids walk out of the class a little bit more appreciative and grateful and that they have evolved from the beginning of the year to the end. I hope I’ve been a small part of enriching their lives and broadening their horizons a bit.”
Mazzotti said she looks forward to doing some much loved travel in her retirement. She and her husband plan to take a trip to Greece this summer with their daughter. She is most appreciative of her time in the Taylorville school system, and all the students she has met along the way.
By Tavia Jean
Breeze Courier Writer
TAYLORVILLE — Kathy Vocks started in the district at West School in 1985. She was allowed to supervise the playground when her son, Adam, started school. Next, Kathy went to South School when her son Tyler began school. Eventually, She joined the technology department and worked at Memorial School and, lastly, at Taylorville High School.
The tech department was a team that collaborated as the district went from computer labs to one-to-one devices. Kathy says, “I was able to grow within myself, at my job and abilities. I am proud of the work the district and I have accomplished together.”
As a member of the tech department, Kathy worked on web pages and calendars for many years. A few years ago, when technology updated, Kathy took on a troubleshooting role and managed the district’s Chromebooks. Kathy describes her journey as “ incredible, filled with challenges and triumphs.” Kathy is grateful for all the experiences that have contributed to her personal and professional growth.
Kathy contributes all of her success to the members of the tech department for making Kathy see her fullest potential and for the knowledge they share. “It was joyful to watch our district grow through the years with the technological changes.”
Working for Taylorville School District allowed Kathy to have a schedule around her children and grandchildren. This allowed Kathy to attend important events in their life while they were growing up. Serving this school district has been an honor, and she will always cherish the memories of her time there. Kathy looks forward to spending more time with her husband Kirk and family, enjoying simple pleasures at the beach.
Title I Reading
by Tom Latonis
Janet Haines is retiring this year following 17 years of service to the Taylorville School District. She has taught at North Elementary School and is a Title I Reading Specialist.
She is a native of Edinburg and graduated from Edinburg High School and attended Lincoln Land Community College and got her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, Springfield. She attained her Master’s degree from Western Illinois University, Macomb.
Janet and her husband have two grown daughters and four grandchildren.
She began her teaching career in 2000 and started in 2006 at the Stonington Grade School until it was closed and ended up in North School. Janet became Reading Specialist in 2009.
Reading Specialists “Help students who need extra help in reading,” Janet explained.
She has taught first grade the past few years but has also taught in Kindergarten through fifth grade. The classroom size is small, usually about three to four students. Starting out, there were about three to six students in a class whom she saw for a half-hour a day.
“Although I don’t see quite as many as now – since we limit our group size to three to four – I see about 40 students each day,” she said.
“The best part of my job is helping students who have difficulties with reading and help them become successful,” said Janet. “As they improve, they gain more confidence. Seeing them gain that confidence really makes my heart smile.”
Janet especially enjoys the camaraderie and closeness she feels with her students.
“I get to know my students even though I don’t get to see them all day long,” she said. “We have a smaller group and I really get to know them. we learn a lot about each other.”
Janet has many fond memories of students she has taught. And, despite their young age, some of them remember her as well.
“One instance, while I was working at another school, the student came up to me and said, ‘You made me read!,’ “ she said. “There are other times when students will ask, ‘Are we going to read today, Mrs. Haines?’”
Recently, another student approached her while she was on bus duty at school dismissal.
“We were walking toward the bus and he said, ‘I remember when we made ice cream in your class at Stonington. It was the best ice cream ever!”
She explained, they had read about making ice cream and then they did it.
“It’s the kind you put in a plastic bag and shake it,” she said. “It tasted a little salty, but he insisted, ‘It was still the best!’ “
While the students have provided a lot of joy in her career, Janet said most of all, she will miss her staff.
“That’s the hardest part for me, leaving my staff,” said Janet. “And the reading field is really learning so much more about how children learn to read. I’m saddened to be leaving at this time because I fell like they are really learning enough so that teachers can help their students in better ways.”
For her future plans she says her top priority is “grandkids and family.”
And after, that, she says she’s really not sure what the future holds for her and her family.