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SW teachers stay for love of their students

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Cathy Macaluso, or Mrs. Mac as her students call her, helps one of them during Wednesday’s class. Macaluso started at Southwestern Elementary 39 years ago and has no intention of retiring.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

For Cathy Macaluso – or Mrs. Mac, as her students call her – and Karen Parmer, it all comes back to the children.

The longtime teachers at Southwestern Elementary School love what they do, and that love starts with their students.

Now in their 39th year at the same elementary school, the two have every intention of making it to 40 years and beyond.

Their co-workers and bosses have changed over time, and some of their former students are now parents themselves sending their children to the same elementary school. Technology is now a key part in their students’ education, and the accountability for teachers is stricter.

But for both, the bottom line is they continue to come to work out of love for their students.

“Kids are still kids. People are still people,” Parmer said when asked what is different about today’s students. “They want you to care about them and love them just as much as always.”

Macaluso started at the school as a first grade teacher until 2003, when she switched to the sixth grade. She admitted that it was a big adjustment at the time because she had no experience teaching that grade level.

“I cried over (that) summer and I love it now,” she said. “I enjoy sixth grade kids. They’re sweeties. They’re characters too.”

That age allows her to tease them and they like to have fun in class.

For example, the class previously read “Bears of Blue River” but the students didn’t like the ending to the story so Macaluso assigned them to re-write it.

One student ended it like a fairy tail, while another wrote it like it was a bloody ending to a Lifetime movie, she said with a laugh.

Parmer started out teaching fifth grade and has taught kindergarten, first and third grade throughout her career. She is currently the Work One teacher and is in charge of the Reading Recovery program at the elementary.

She comes from a family of teachers.

Both her mother and her grandmother taught – her mom also taught at the same elementary – and her two daughters are both employed by Southwestern.

Women didn’t have the same career opportunities they have now and growing up in a family with teachers gave Parmer an idea of what to expect.

“I grew up in a teaching home,” she said. “If you grow up in a teaching home, you know a little more of what the teaching life’s going to be like. I don’t think the general public is aware of how much of a lifestyle it is.”

Both she and her husband attended Southwestern High School, and with those roots, Parmer has stayed at the same school her entire career. She called it her “family.”

The school has remained “very family friendly,” she said, and its size has allowed it to remain focused on the students.

“You can’t get lost here as a student very easily. You’d have to try,” she said with a laugh. “I think everyone’s kept the same core goals and attitudes throughout the entire time (of her career).”

The key, Macaluso said, is to take whatever time is necessary for students to understand the material.

That’s different from when she started. Classes spent a specific amount of time on one skill for a week, followed by a different skill the following week.

Now, she said she took three weeks on one lesson that in another class might have taken one.

She encouraged first-year teachers to spend as much time as necessary to get the vast majority of the class to understand the material before moving on.

“It doesn’t pay to keep moving forward if they don’t grasp it,” she said. “How are you going to read if you don’t know your phonics?”

Neither she nor Parmer have any intention of retiring at the end of this school year. Macaluso said she will continue to teach as long as she can.

“As long as (Principal) Josh (Edwards) thinks I’m doing my job. I really don’t want to stop,” she said, noting her husband passed away and all of her sons are adults. “I love being here. I still can’t sleep the first night before school, but I love it.”

Parmer said she doesn’t have a date in mind for retirement, but her mother retired at age 72. Her mother decided one day while sitting at her desk that “she didn’t have to do this,” she said with a laugh.

“I don’t think I’ll go to that extent, but I find it rewarding enough that I honestly look forward to coming and being with the kids,” she said. “And I don’t really know. I would need to re-wire instead of retire. I don’t see myself not being busy doing something. I guess it’s kind of a calling or a mission in life, is to make a difference in the life of kids. I just enjoy doing it. I find it rewarding.”

Educational Experiences

The Shelbyville News is producing feature stories over the next week on first-time educators and those with the most experience in Shelby County classrooms.

In today’s edition, Southwestern Elementary School teachers Cathy Macaluso and Karen Parmer, both 39 years into their careers, discuss their love of teaching and how long they want to continue.