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Draper Journal

Willow Canyon teacher retires amidst schools starting during COVID-19 pandemic

Sep 02, 2020 03:28PM ● By Julie Slama

Suzanne Mart, left, joined in her colleague Alice Erickson’s retirement poster party in mid-May, not realizing, she also would retire before the 2020-21 school year began. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was supposed to be Suzanne Mart’s “year of lasts” as she was planning to retire next year and join her colleague Alice Erickson, who announced this spring she would step down.

The two taught 37 years together—all of Mart’s teaching career.

“It’s really sad,” she said. “I was going to have one more year to do this or that, but as I read the guidelines to keeping our children safe, I realized it’s so not my style. It’s what we have to do to social distance, I understand that, but I like having the students around me at circle time.”

Mart said that often her first-grade students sit together at circle time, going over the calendar, playing games with one another, and by keeping a distance and having activities be more structured to ensure safety, that wouldn’t allow her to teach in the manner she was accustomed.

She said her health is compromised as she has rheumatoid arthritis. After talking to her doctor and pondering it over a few days, she decided to retire in late July.

“It’s hard, very hard. The job has always been my identification. I’ve always had it through happy times, sad times, but I can honestly say I haven’t worked a day in my life. I love what I do,” she said. “This is a confusing time with the school year ending so abruptly. It’s a weird time to retire. Usually you think you can watch an afternoon movie or ski, but we don’t know if those will even come to fruition.”

Mart who “checked out,” in her words, is one of 22 teachers of Canyons School District’s 1,700 teachers who retired or resigned because of the COIVD-19 pandemic as of early August. In addition, more than 30 other employees of Canyons’ 6,000 part- and full-time staff, retired or resigned. At a recent Canyons Board of Education meeting, statistics shared show 85 teachers in all schools are considered high risk, 27 of those in elementary schools. 

Some teachers, however, are as eager as children to return to “normal,” in a classroom setting in a school building. Supporters as well as those who wanted other alternatives spoke at several Canyons Board of Education meetings or emailed Board members while they pondered the District’s plan for a safe return to in-person learning. Ultimately, the parents were given three options: in-person, online or parent-lead learning—and the start of school was postponed one week.

As of Aug. 4, 73 elementary teachers applied to teach in the 61 online positions.

Mart said her position hasn’t been filled as of early August, instead they are waiting to see how many students will be returning in-person versus learning online or parent-lead. At the board meeting, with 86% of Canyons students registered, 77% plan to return in-person, 21% of all students plan to continue online and about 2% with parent-lead.

Mart said that she empathizes with parents.

“Having children to return to school for in-person learning or keeping them home for online learning, I respect either decision. It’s a hard decision. I wanted someone else to make the decision for me whether to retire or not. The known is easier than the unknown,” she said, adding that her school has made plans to ensure the safety and health of children returning.

Mart’s principal, Marilyn Williams, knows students will yearn for the longtime teacher.

“She is beloved in the community,” Williams said. “She sings and does yoga with her students. It’s a fun learning environment for first graders. She is going to be missed.”

Mart, who has taught all her years at Willow Canyon, in a neighborhood where she lives, will miss being in the classroom, teaching children of the children she taught years ago.

“I enjoy generation teaching. I’m blessed I have a good memory and can tell the students what their parents liked in first grade. I had one boy whose mom passed away. I could tell him that his mom was the best little jump-roper. He couldn’t jump rope, but he worked hard at it, all year. By the end of the year, he was every bit as good as his mom. It was a special bond between us. These kids and parents are my neighbors. I know who they are, they walk in front of my house, and we’re really connected. That has made all the difference.”

While Mart, and her former teammate and friend Erickson, plan to help their former first-grade colleagues, it will have to wait until they get the go-ahead. Canyons School District has a temporary hold on allowing volunteers to help in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We always said we’d retire together, and I guess we did. The District has my last day as May 29, the same as hers. It’s just not the way we planned. I’m going to miss the little people with their unique personalities. Teaching has been my life. I guess now I may start fixing dinner now,” she said, adding that visiting her mother, and learning how to kayak and play pickleball also round out her retirement plans.