Happy Retirement: My Sister Was Born To Teach

IMG951132_copyAs children, while I was still busy beating up the neighborhood boys, my sister was training to be a teacher. With hand-me-down teaching materials from our parents, both educators, she lined up stuffed animals and dolls in front of her chalkboard. Even back then, she never raised her voice. In an old grade book, she recorded only As and Bs making sure that every Connie doll and Teddy bear in her classroom passed with flying colors.

With a soft spot for the underdog, she befriended the child with a limp and made sure the class misfit was included in games. While I was an ornery, hard hitter looking for a fight, Sue, the peacekeeper, inherited an extra kindness gene. Never has a more compassionate soul walked the earth.

As if she couldn’t wait to get started, she graduated a semester early from Illinois State University with a degree in special education. Her first job was so challenging, she questioned her calling, but she didn’t give up. She moved on to Yorkville High School, becoming the first fulltime LD teacher where she dedicated the next 34 years building the special education department, one brick at a time. When she arrived she was the only LD teacher, now nine teachers in her department serve the needs of about 120 students and co teach in 45 classes where they reach additional students. YHS has 4 other special needs programs with another 80 plus students and Sue and her staff sometimes work with those students though they aren’t on their caseloads.

Sue has been honored with Teacher of the Year accolades and the Fox Pride Award but what makes her proudest is hearing about the successes of her former students. And she does find out because her students keep in touch. Several of her students have been inspired to go into teaching.

Most people embrace retirement with open arms; my sister’s heart is torn. If one could put the state testing requirements, curriculum writing, and administrative demands aside, she would remain in education forever. She never really wanted to give up the teaching.

In her magical way, she made every child who felt stupid and hopeless believe that he had something special to offer the world. She unlocked the key to his heart, unscrambled his mind. Then sitting by his side, she taught him tricks to interpret the world in a way that made sense to his brain.

In Sue’s classroom, students never felt uniqueness was a deterrent. She helped dyslexic kids learn to read and ADHD children to understand concepts while on the move. She counseled distraught parents and troubled teens, and won over colleagues and administrators. As a catalyst, she united families, educators and support staff to work together for the best interest of the child. As an advocate, she implemented the best accommodations and individualized education plans to give her students every tool to succeed. She never pampered special needs kids through the program, she merely leveled the playing field and made sure every child in her department was prepared.

IMG_0762_copyAs if preordained, my sister was destined to teach, born with a gift. She set the bar high and served her school with excellence. She earned her rest, yet I imagine she will continue doing what she does best, giving back to her family, friends, church, and community. Though she retired from her position at the head of the class, her legacy continues in students and colleagues and family members whose lives she touched as a teacher.

The greatest proponents of education theorize that kids learn best by modeling behavior. Sue set a shining example, sharing her time, her energy, her wisdom and her heart, not only with her students, but also with the rest of us. She taught each day in a state of grace and went out of her way to make the journey easier for anyone who crossed her path. In her book, we were all special and gifted.


Posted in education, family, inspiration, relationships, social view.


  1. I see you have inherited the kindness genes as sisters… you always found the best in the La Chat horror kids too hey? 🙂 …and as I remember, you allowed those sporty boys to write about sports when they were so turned off English that they never wanted to engage… Blood and soul sisters in teaching I would say. Love Rachael xx

    • That kindness gene must have been passed on from our parents and grandparents, all educators, who dedicated their lives to helping kids. Funny, too, how the boys always found something to write when it came to football.

  2. Thank you Pat for sharing Sue’s amazing career with us. She has in fact touched countless lives…mine included! And she will continue to teach in some way even after her retirement. She is, by far, one of the most loving people God ever put on this earth. You did an outstanding job with this loving tribute to your sister.

  3. What a loving sisterly tribute to Sue, Pat. It reminds me that teaching is a calling, “to teach is to touch a life forever”. Thanks for introducing us to Sue and her passionate mission. Wishing her much happiness in her retirement!

    • Thanks, Chris, and now Nic will be entering the profession, so let him know if there is any need of a history teacher in your area. He is still in your neck of the woods.

  4. Pat, You capture all of Sue’s exceptional qualities in this article as she truly is one of the most compassionate and caring people I know. I also know she will continue to give although she may not be in the classroom every day.

    Sue, may you enjoy this next chapter of your life!!!!

  5. Born to teach! Yes, indeed! I shared 20 years of my educational career with this wonderful teacher and friend. In her gentle, positive way she influenced not only her students but those with whom she worked. Be it the custodian or the building principal she, by example, made all a better person.

    Sue changed the lives of so many young people. Gaining knowledge was important, but more important was the confidence and self worth she instilled in her students. HAPPY RETIREMENT TO SUE !

  6. Pat, it sounds as if your sister, indeed, was born to teach! While I imagine that someone with her personality traits could have succeeded at whatever she undertook, she wisely chose that which she felt most passionate about, proving once again that we do best when we follow our passions. Her students, of course, were the beneficiaries (as, I’ll bet, are her family and friends). Best wishes, Sue, on a happy retirement!

    • Yes, Debbie, Sue would succeed at whatever she set out to do. In fact, I have told her that now that she will retired from teaching, she can start her new career as interior decorator, personal organizer or party planner for she is ultra organized. I am planning to fly her over to sort out my life. ha

  7. Great tribute to a great sister & teacher. Sad to hear about another teacher leaving partly because of such a broken system. Happy for her and her retirement! I’m sure her loving nature & teaching heart will carry on to this next phase of life. Thanks to her for all she has contributed!

  8. Yahoo!! Congratulations, Sue on a marvelous career. Take a minute to look back and enjoy all your accomplishments. And thank you Pat, for sharing another inspiring piece of writing!

  9. I hope more teachers will continue the example your sister led in what it truly means to be a teacher- congrats to Sue who deserves a bit of R&R!

  10. Wonderul tribute to your sister and a teacher. Noticed your picture in your banner…Is that Switzerland? Read you “About” page and wondered if you are still there? I lived there for 4.5 years.

  11. Pat, that is a wonderful tribute to your amazing sister. I have been inspired by her dedication to helping kids – even when the administrative parts of the job became so time-consuming. As a teacher and a person, she gives her friends a lesson in living life well!

  12. teaching is a tough career so kudos to Sue for hanging in there for a lifetime and giving it her best all th way through. Thanks for writing about her Pat as teachers do NOT get enough credit.

  13. Pat, what a great tribute to your sister. She has been a wonderful friend for 29 years and I wish her all the best. I will miss her terribly, but will take comfort in remembering her approach to children and education. I know that she will always be close when I need someone to lean on. I am so proud to call her my friend!

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