A legacy of learning and connection
As students and families busily prepare for the start of the new school year and classrooms buzz with teachers and staff eagerly anticipating their arrival, elementary school teacher Cheryl Anderson observes all the activity with a knowing and reverent smile. For the first summer in 38 years, the veteran teacher is putting up her feet instead of new bulletin boards; Anderson retired in June after dedicating her life to students and learning within the Douglas County School District.
She acknowledges the challenges inherent with this significant life transition. “I spent most of each summer looking forward to the new school year,” she says. “Planning new units, buying supplies, waiting for the pencil boxes to go on sale. It’s strange not to have that push/pull of teaching vs. vacationing this summer.”
Anderson comes from a long family line of educators. “We grew up ‘playing school.’ I loved it, but I wanted to be different, I wanted something for myself,” she recalls. She attended the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) with an intention of earning a journalism degree, but after numerous assignments were returned bearing copious red grease pencil marks from her instructor, she determined that “my writing style did not match a journalism path.” She took a few school counseling courses but decided those too, weren’t a match.
Upon reconsideration, she realized she was drawn to “the idea of designing lessons that pique interest and make kids want to learn…something that allows them to have a voice and collaborate and from that, you either take them farther to enrich their learning or back up and explore the concept in a different way. I loved the challenge and excitement of that.” The switch to education was a smooth one, and Anderson earned a BA in elementary education from UNR in 1978. She was hired to teach 5th grade at Meneley Elementary in the Gardnerville Ranchos that same year and remained there until Scarselli Elementary opened in 1988.
The friendships made and connections forged in the early years at Meneley remained with Anderson throughout her career and to this day. When Scarselli was pegged to open as a year-round school, the schedule shift made her question applying. The knowledge that many of her Meneley colleagues were also considering a transfer buoyed her decision to make the change.
She spent 1978-1988 teaching at Meneley and was selected as Teacher of the Year in 1982. After moving to Scarselli, she taught there for the next 28 years and earned Teacher of the Year honors again in 1999. In 1993, Anderson earned her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction in Reading and Language Arts from UNR.
Her career was spent teaching upper elementary students in grades 3-6. Nine years were devoted to teaching multiple age groups (MAG), which she loved.
“Those were wonderful years,” she says. “Getting to spend three years with those kids really gave you an opportunity to get to know them and build deep personal relationships with their families. During those years you become part of those families; you’re with them celebrating whatever wonderful is happening, and when challenging things happen, you’re invited to support them in that.”
She cherishes the invitations she still receives from former students to their family functions, weddings, and graduations. “I hold those memories in my heart.”
Anderson was passionate about the upper grade curriculum and loved integrating literature throughout state and U.S. history lessons. “I’m a native Nevadan, and am fascinated by all the different areas, the people, and our history. I shared that passion with the students and wanted to instill a love of Nevada in them, too.”
Students took an active role in their own learning in Anderson’s classes. “There was lots of role playing around the Revolutionary War and Civil War because that was the best way for kids to learn about and understand it,” says Anderson. Kids actively participated in focused literature discussion groups and assumed leadership roles in math instruction. “They talked about different ways to solve math problems…they got to show how they learned a concept and they could often explain it in a way that allowed other kids to connect in a new way to the teaching. It was important that they understand there were different ways to get to the same answer.”
Anderson toyed with the idea of retirement for years before committing to the decision. “A colleague once told me, ‘When it’s time, you’ll know.’” Over the past year she finally decided she wanted “to spend more time with my family, take care of my own health, and travel wherever and whenever the wanderlust hits me. I wanted to retire while I still have wonderful memories of all the great times I’ve had in this profession. Teaching has been my career for 38 years and I have loved every minute.”
This newfound time combined with her love of history have Anderson contemplating an application as a docent for one of our local museums. She and her husband, Andy, look forward to attending more Giants baseball games this fall as well as visiting her parents in Reno; daughter, Rachel in San Diego; and son Brett, who followed his mother’s footsteps into education and will graduate with a degree from UNR this year.
Anderson regards the years spent in education with fondness and reverence.
“The kids are what gave me the spark to teach,” she said. “That you have that kind of influence (on them) makes you feel so important and so good. When they make progress, you know you did something right. Who wouldn’t want that?”
She smiled, tears pooling the corners of her eyes. “I’m really going to miss that.”
Amy Roby can be reached at email@example.com.