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Longtime SES teachers still enjoy 'aha moment'

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Pat Kohne helps a group of his students figure out some multiplicationequations during Thursday’s class.
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Deborah Stafford guidesthird grade students through a singing exercise earlier last week.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

Pat Kohne loves the moment when one of his students understands whatever the concept is he is trying to teach.

The Morristown Elementary School fourth grade teacher calls it the “aha moment.”

“I love those moments,” he said. “I don’t get a whole lot of those sometimes but I love those moments.”

Deborah Stafford gets similar pleasure in that moment.

For the choir teacher at both elementary schools at Shelby Eastern Schools, she gets the benefit of seeing the progress her students make in the long term.

“I can see it from one year to the next,” she said. “I get to see how much has been built. I basically tell them, ‘I get to see whether or not I’m doing my job.’”

Like Cathy Macaluso and Karen Parmer at Southwestern Elementary School, the two SES teachers are in their 39th year, most of it at Shelby Eastern.

Kohne arrived in Morristown after making a connection to former principal Phil Spears after graduating from Ball State University in Muncie.

He was still living in Muncie when he heard a crash in an alleyway next to his home and a woman yelling at a group of children who had thrown a glass bottle. The two of them got to talking and he found out that her son was Spears.

At that point, Kohne had never heard of Morristown before, but he told her to reach out to her son because he was looking for a teaching job. Spears showed up one day at his home in Muncie and the two got to know one another before Kohne agreed to an interview for an opening at the elementary.

He was eventually hired after meeting with then-Superintendent Daryl Carmony and has been teaching in Morristown ever since.

Stafford was originally going to teach English, until a camping trip in high school slightly changed her direction. Her cousin gave her some insight that convinced her to teach music.

“He said ‘people can be English teachers pretty easily if you can read and write,’” she said in relaying the story. “‘You have a gift of music to share with other people, and not everybody has that.’ So that’s when I went, ‘huh, that’s a good idea.’”

She attended Indiana Central University – now the University of Indianapolis – where she studied music education before finding a job with Indianapolis Public Schools. After a year there, she took a job at Sanders Elementary School in Wayne Township in Indianapolis before taking a job at Coulston Elementary.

From there, she made her way to Shelby Eastern, where she replaced the daughter of her first grade teacher, the same teacher who pulled her first tooth, she said with a laugh.

Kohne and Stafford agreed that state regulations have changed the job over the years. There’s more paperwork involved and teachers are pressed for time, expected to fulfill certain time requirements in each subject. Kohne said teaching is more “regimented” compared to when he started.

Though he has a great passion for an assignment that exposes his students to Indiana beyond Shelby County, he said time constraints limit him to three major projects throughout the school year.

That particular assignment requires all of his students to leave Shelby County and explore a community they’re not familiar with.

Students are shown how to write a business letter that is sent to that community’s Chamber of Commerce. The hope is that the chamber responds, and the student is then required to visit that community and interview a local resident.

Kohne said his students have visited all across Indiana, from Evansville to South Bend. They then give a presentation, the format of which is of their choosing.

“It’s been great,” he said. “I learn so much, just listening to the kids and what they learned too.”

Stafford has a pet project of her own, so to speak, although it changed last year.

Traditionally, both schools put on a Christmas program around the holidays.

But when her schedule changed last year to switching between the two schools after nine weeks, the timing meant she would be out of one school over the holidays. That forced her to produce one Christmas show at whichever school she was teaching at, and another program she dubbed “Not the Christmas Program,” which features music from various holidays, later in the year.

Stafford realizes not all of her students are going to be professional musicians when they grow up, but she hopes they take it seriously.

“I tell them ‘if you’re going to take this thing home and make noise with it, don’t take it home,” she said referring to their recorders. “‘If you plan to take it home and make music, that’s fine with me.’”

Kohne switched to teaching fourth graders after nine years as a first grade teacher. He said not much has changed with the students themselves since he started.

“Fourth grade, they still want to learn, most of them, and it was the same way back in 1980,” he said. “If they didn’t want to learn, they weren’t going to learn. And of course now I see what they’re doing. They’re not doing anything.”

He’s proud of his former students, some of whom have gone onto become doctors and lawyers.

“I had one year of touching them which is good,” he said. “That makes me feel good when I see that. it makes me feel really, really good when I see kids go onto the teaching field.”

Stafford said she will retire after 40 years. Her husband, Jim, retired almost 10 years ago and when she celebrated her 60th birthday earlier this year, he posted on Facebook that he is looking forward to more “excellent adventures” with her when they travel after she retires.

In the meantime, she continues to enjoy being in the classroom.

“I always said, ‘if I can get back up off the floor from being with the kids, then I still get to keep teaching,’” she said.

Educational Experiences

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

Stories on first-time teacher Cole Van Dyke, of Triton Central, and veterans teachers Cathy Macaluso and Karen Parmer, both of Southwestern, have been published and are online at www.shelbynews.com.

In today’s edition, 39-year teaching veterans Pat Kohne and Deborah Stafford, both of the Shelby Eastern Schools system, are profiled.