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VETERAN TEACHERS RECALL THE BEST AND WORST OF TIMES

Come Sept. 9, thousands of students and hundreds of teachers will stream back into classrooms with that highly charged First-Day-of-School feeling.

For the first time in around 30 years, Leona Killock, June Ryan and Ed Gallagher won't be wiping chalk dust from their hands. They are among a great wave of veteran school teachers -- several thousand in the state each year -- expected to vacate classrooms in the next decade.

Their leave-taking brings back memories and some nostalgia.

"I don't know what I'll be doing that day, but I'll keep myself busy," said Mrs. Killock, who was principal of Jefferson Elementary School in the Ken-Ton District and former science teacher.

What these longtime educators will miss most, they say, is working with colleagues and influencing students, such as the girls who went into science after being in her classroom, Mrs. Killock said.

What they won't miss is the paperwork, the repetition, and class sizes larger than they'd like.

Ed Gallagher, a science teacher at the Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, started teaching in 1965, after graduating from the University of Buffalo as a geologist.

At that time, there was such a severe shortage that he was hired without any teacher training, he said. "I went to see if I could get a job as a sub, and they still had five teaching positions the last week of summer," he said. "I can remember asking another teacher, 'What's a lesson plan?' "

While he's seen a vast improvement in textbooks and equipment, Gallagher wishes teachers had a larger say in decision-making.

His top suggestions?

Smaller classes, updated buildings and attention to discipline problems.

"I know it sounds like teachers are always crying," he said, "but to really have an impact and give kids proper feedback, it would make sense to look at 45 papers instead of 150, which becomes drudgery.

"The No. 1 thing would be to concentrate on discipline," he said. "That should be the priority. It's only a few who cause problems, but it can very disruptive."

June Ryan, a French teacher who just retired from Tonawanda High School, turns 65 Saturday. She said teaching has been such a positive experience that she found it hard to give it up.

"When I started, there was a lot of idealism and enthusiasm," she said. "I believe in the self-fulfilling prophecy, believing that what a teacher thinks can manipulate a class to realize their dreams."

And now?

"Probably more reality set in."

She's delighted with the students she taught.

"I would say 98 percent of them are just wonderful," she said. "You just have to be frank and honest and give them a fair shake."

Mrs. Killock said that teaching strategies changed since she started 30 years ago, going from lecturing to experiential learning.

But some things don't change.

"When there are good things happening in the classroom and you like kids, things fall into place," she said.

With the retirement of these three, schools lose 91 years of experience. I hope the replacements come in with freshness and energy, a commitment to their students and the patience to deal with bureaucracy.

Because I still think that when's it's done right -- when a teacher engenders excitement about learning -- there is no more rewarding profession. And no finer contribution.

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