It’s summer-children rejoice but teachers cry

As the school year draws to a close, children are excited about summer but little do they know their teachers are holding back tears.

“We are very emotional,” says Susan Young, a fourth/fifth grade teacher at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School. “I’m thrilled for all of my kids, but I know when promotion day comes it will hit me hard when I realize they are leaving. I feel like a mama duck.”

Every year teachers face the bittersweet event of saying good-bye to children they have nurtured and taught six hours a day for 182 days.

“This time of year is full of mixed emotions like sadness and excitement because you can see how far they’ve come,” says Juan Cabrillo kindergarten teacher Anabella Large. “We keep a journal from the beginning of the year to the end and the kids can look back and see how their scribbles and lines turn into sentences-it’s amazing.”

Large has been teaching for 18 years; the majority of those years have been in a kindergarten classroom. For Large, saying good-bye means letting go of children who have literally transformed in front of her eyes. The changes that occur in the kindergarten year are monumental and very visible. “It’s almost like they are my own children. It’s hard to say good-bye because they are my babies.”

Young came to the teaching field as a second career. After working in business for many years, she switched to teaching six years ago. She says it’s the hardest job she’s ever done but also the most rewarding. “I absolutely love it. I never look at the clock.”


That sentiment appears to be prevalent among teachers throughout Malibu schools. Mel Chernow has been teaching at Webster Elementary School for nearly 30 years. He is currently a fourth/fifth grade instructor. “It’s a great job,” he says.

Young and Chernow have similar hopes and expectations for their fifth graders. “My goal is to help the kids with their self-esteem and ability to make decisions,” Chernow says. “I expect them to be responsible and accountable so when they leave my classroom they are ready for middle school.”

Young adds, “I hope I gave them a good sense of self along with the academics like organization and study skills. I want them to go into middle school feeling good about themselves and feeling that they are bright students.”

In Joan Kaczorowski’s first/second grade classroom at Webster the children are obediently participating in share time where each student talks about an item brought in from home. Kaczorowski watches them with a mixture of pride and sadness in her eyes. This is her last year at Webster as a full-time teacher. She is retiring after 32 years.

“I’m going to miss the interaction with the kids and the parents,” she says contemplatively. “It’s wonderful to watch them grow academically and socially.”

Ironically, Kaczorowski feels like she is just now at her best when it comes to her teaching career, but the recent loss of a friend to cancer made her realize she wanted to spend more time outside of the classroom. “You can’t wait,” she explains emotionally. “You can’t keep saying, ‘I’ll do it next year.’ You need to do it when it feels good and it feels right.”

Kaczorowski plans to substitute at Webster but looks forward to traveling with her husband, playing tennis and taking up quilting with her friend and teaching assistant Vickie Fein, who just happens to be retiring from Webster this year as well.

Amidst the regular hustle and bustle of the year’s end, the conclusion of this school year is accompanied by a collective sigh of relief from administrators, staff and teachers as Measure S passed. The parcel tax will bring in $6.2 million annually to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District coffers, which have been drastically cut in the state’s new budget.

Juan Cabrillo Principal Pat Cairns said the passage of the parcel tax is like a weight off each school’s shoulders. “We feel tremendously supported by parents and the community. We needed Prop S passed because we need the money, but every teacher at this school was committed to doing the same fabulous job next year even if we had no money.”

As Cairns points out, the teachers are the critical link in the public education system. Their dedication and personal commitment to their students creates a positive learning atmosphere, and yet that same dedication makes them vulnerable to the emotions of letting go each year.

Through tears, Cairns says, “We just love these kids. We want to give them wings so they can really fly-that’s our job.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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