Shy teacher, a favorite of students, set to retire |

Shy teacher, a favorite of students, set to retire

Post Independent Photo/Kara K. PearsonJoEllen White reads to her third-grade class at Sopris Elementary School Thursday. White plans to retire at the end of the school year after teaching for 41 years.

One afternoon, after the bell rang at Sopris Elementary, JoEllen White made a phone call just to be polite. Earlier in the day, a reporter had called White wanting to profile her during her 41st and final year of teaching in the Roaring Fork School District.”Thank you,” she said. But, “I’m the absolute shyest person you’ll ever meet.” At Sopris alone, there are a half-dozen retiring teachers who would make better stories, she said. But none of the others had started a Glenwood Springs teaching career in 1965 at the grade school, as it was called at the time, and stuck with the third grade for over four decades. “I knew a good thing, and I stayed,” she said, still squirming to get out of a profile. White, as kind as she is, relented and invited the reporter and photographer to her class the next day. She read her class a version of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” then let her high school assistant take over while she talked about her career, seated under a cardboard model of the Hubble telescope she stores for a school play in her classroom. It’s time to move on, she explained. When White started teaching in Glenwood Springs she was the youngest teacher in the school; now she says, “I am the oldest teacher in our building, probably in the district.”Next year, after White has taken down the X-rays from the outdoor windows and the multiplication tables from the wall, she imagines a new teacher just starting a career will take over her room. Thinking about the end of her career in those cyclical terms is what keeps her from getting sad about moving on, she said.From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., “you just cannot beat this,” she said. And for many former students, White herself is tough to beat. “The most amazing thing about her is this is probably her best year teaching,” said SES principal Howard Jay, who has had two kids in White’s class over the years. Jay’s son just received his master’s degree from Northern Arizona University, and White is still his favorite teacher, said Jay. Glenwood Springs High School drama teacher Gayla Rowe gives White a large part of the credit for inspiring her to become a teacher. “I had wonderful teachers before her, but there was just something about her,” said Rowe. “It was the first time I felt like someone really believed in me.”Rowe student-taught in Glenwood Springs after college and remembers sitting in an award ceremony where the Roaring Fork School District was honoring its long-time teachers and the longest-serving person recognized that night was White.”I went, ‘She’s the reason I’m here,'” said Rowe.For all that’s changed in the world since 1965, not much has changed in White’s classroom. There is much more of a community feel at school, with teamwork between teachers, teachers and parents and teachers and administrators, White said. But the kids are still good kids, the staff is still dedicated and parents still want the best, she said. And White is the same as she’s always been – smiling and unassuming and shy to talk about herself. “She just does so much for other people,” said Jay, but “she does not like the limelight at all.”

NameJobYearsBarbara Haydukfinancial secretary SES1981-2005JoEllen Whitethird-grade teacher SES1964-2005Judith Tirpacklibrarian SES1976-2005April Walkerthird-grade teacher SES1984-2005Ann EnglishELL teacher SES1987-2005Lorie Beattie Couriermusic teacher SES1981-2005Libby McNeillart teacher SES1984-2005Iris CrymbleTitle 1 teacher GSES1976-2005Mike Wellsprincipal GSHS1980-2005Jeannie Millermusic teacher GSHS1985-2005Janie Crisp librarian GSHS 1976-2005Robert Brooks English teacher GSHS 1987-2005Pat Waddick principal CRES 1994-2005Margie Meredith first-grade teacher CRES 1978-2005Wendy Moore principal RFHS 1998-2005Karen Harvey assistant principal BHS 2001-2005Mila Jensen food service director 1984-2005

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