'It's been a good 40 years'
This month, two teachers at Civic League Day Nursery are celebrating 40 years in teaching. That's four decades with young learners at the oldest nursery school in Rochester.
Cindy Sullivan and Gloria Liebenow both began their careers in August 1976 at the center, and said they intend to remain there until retirement, because it is their "home away from home."
Sullivan is a teacher of 4- and 5-year-olds at the center. She is a Rochester native and a graduate of John Marshall High School. She is married, has two children and two grandchildren. She earned her degree in child development from what was then Rochester Vocational School.
She was drawn to a career in early childhood, she said, because she has just always enjoyed being around children.
"For their enthusiasm," she said. "They just seem genuinely happy to see you. It's a feel-good way to start the day."
Gloria Liebenow teaches toddlers, ages 16 months to 2½ years. She grew up on a farm near Mabel and is the youngest of 10 children. She is married and has one son.
"It was just natural for me to go into this work," she said. "I did a lot of babysitting for nieces and nephews. I was born to do this."
Gloria said she enjoys working with toddlers because they are active so much of the time.
"They keep me young," she said.
The two recently reflected on their own days in school and their 40-year careers in teaching.
When you were growing up, did you enjoy school, and what was your favorite subject?
Gloria:Being the youngest of 10, I was extremely shy. Going off to school was a hard transition. I have an older sister who would often be called down to my kindergarten classroom to assure me I would be OK. In high school, I loved history class. I had an awesome teacher who made it fun.
Cindy:I was shy in school, so I can understand and connect with the shyer kids here. My favorite subjects were art and music. Music is a part of my classroom now, as I play guitar for the kids on Friday and try to introduce them to some of the older recording artists. I have a record player in my room, and when I show kids the records they think they are really big CDs!
Thinking back to those first few days as a teacher, what were your feelings as you began your new job?
Gloria:I student-taught at CLDN; it was one of my placements. The lead teacher I worked with suggested I come to work here after graduation. I feel so lucky because I fell into my job quite easily.
Cindy: I remember the day I was hired. I was super nervous. I had worked in different centers beforehand, but knew CLDN was where I wanted to be. I still remember the children from that first year.
What contributed to your longevity at the center?
Gloria:When we were hired, I had great leadership and co-workers. It continues to be that way. And the atmosphere. It's just like a big home.
Cindy:The director for 25 years here, Joan Gravett. I thought of her as my second mother. She was a great mentor.
How has teaching changed over the years?
Gloria:New trends in parenting styles, guidance and discipline come and go. We grow and change with the new concepts, but social development is still first and foremost what I work on with the toddlers. They learn how to play with each other and how to be a friend.
Cindy:In the early years, it was almost solely about teaching those social skills, but now, as academic expectations for kindergartners have increased, we work with them more on school readiness activities. We help kids keep a journal, which demonstrates their progress and we use bingo games to learn key skills.
As you look back at your 40 years in the classroom, what do you want kids to remember about their time here?
Gloria:I get invited to a lot of graduation parties for the kids that were in my classroom. Their parents have kept the memories alive, and together they often share something they remember about those days. At that age, it's important they feel loved and secure. Many start at 16 months and are with me until 2½ years. It's neat to see the growth. I feel proud for them that they are ready to move on to new adventures. It's a bittersweet feeling when they leave.
Cindy:I hope they leave with a respect for the world around them, nature, and each other. Learning about nature is a big part of my classroom. We have nurtured a baby bird a mom and her child brought to the classroom. The kids went out and dug worms for Robin, and as he grew, he would perch on one of their fingers. I love taking them to hunt for monarch caterpillars and eggs. We take an annual field trip to Quarry Hill each spring. Parents and staff know me as the "resident naturalist." I regularly receive bug books from past parents.
Has the reality of teaching matched the expectations you had as a novice entering the classroom for the first time?
Gloria: It's way beyond what I ever expected. It's amazing. When it comes time for me to leave, when I retire … well, I'll never really leave. It will always be in my heart and soul. I would do it all over again.
Cindy:Thinking back on the years (she takes a moment to dry her tears), some kids really touch your heart. And so many kids come back to say hi, to see the classroom, to see Binky, the rabbit. It's been a good 40 years.