Longtime Beechwood Teacher Retires, is Celebrated with Parade
Cathy Wolff wanted to be a teacher ever since being impressed by one when she was in sixth grade.
That teacher brought fun into the classroom.
"She was amazing," Wolff said. "I loved that teacher so much!"
Wolff started teaching right out of college in Butler, Pennsylvania, then moved to Virginia, teaching in Radford and Braxburg, after which she moved to the D.C. area where she spent three years teaching first grade.
"I really wanted to teach older grades," Wolff said. "I thought first grade would be glorified babysitting."
But she quickly found out that wasn't the case.
Kindergarten wasn't mandated then, so she found that many of her students came into her classroom with no knowledge of the alphabet or any skills. She said that she had to make up her own learning materials in many cases.
Even the children who had gone to kindergarten were lacking in some skills, because she said that kindergarten was so social back then.
Then changes were made to the way early childhood programs were delivered.
"When kindergarten started being full-day programs, it was miraculous, the change in the children," she said. "There was almost no crying. With the former half-day programs in kindergarten, I would have students in the first grade who cried at about 11:30 a.m. because they were tired and they wanted to go home. Now first graders are used to a full day schedule and they are showing amazing progress! There is no comparison to half-day kindergarten, compared to full-day kindergarten."
Wolff moved to Kentucky and taught at Hinsdale Elementary in Edgewood where she had first, second, and third grade classes in one room. She said that that was a challenge, particularly without a teacher's aide.
She took eleven years off from teaching after becoming a mother to three children, but ultimately returned to Hinsdale.
Her children attended Beechwood in Ft. Mitchell, so she started to look for a job there, and successfully landed in a first grade classroom.
She has been there for 27 years, a tenure that ended this week with her retirement. Wolff was sent off with a long parade of cars filled with families and students wishing her well.
"Parents at Beechwood and Hinsdale and other schools really value their children's education," she said. "That's something I like about the current NTI (non-traditional instruction). It is real life experiences with their parents. It is real, hands-on teaching."
One common skill that she taught in first grade was how to tie shoes, and she enjoyed watching as some students would learn how to do it and then teach others.
Similarly, new teachers, she said, also have to take some time to learn the ropes.
"I would say it takes about three years to get your 'sea legs'," Wolff said. "By that time you understand what is working for you and what is not."
Teaching at Beechwood is particularly special, she said, because it includes students from kindergarten through high school on one campus.
"One of the great things about Beechwood is that it is a K through twelve school, and we are allowed to have seniors come and act as aides," she said, adding that it was very rewarding to follow the students through their scholastic career and see their successes.
Wolff had plans to travel this summer, blueprints for a gigantic trip with her family, but like many people's plans, it has been postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"Well, we will see how the fall shakes out," she said. "I would like to go to Italy, and there are many places in the United States I would love to explore. My husband is retired, also, so when things get better, we will travel."
What has she learned in her 37 years of teaching?
"I think the biggest thing I have learned is how many ways families love each other," she said. "I see family traditions, and I think, what a darling tradition, and what a wonderful way to show love! To teach is to love again. It is a way to remind yourself to be patient, to know that each little person needs to be valued. There is nothing more important than that."
While her full-time teaching career has come to an end, Wolff has not ruled out returning to the classroom in the future as a substitute.
"There are not enough words to describe the magnificent Cathy Wolff and the impact she had and will continue to have on students, teachers, and her community," said Zach Ashley, Beechwood Elementary School Principal. "Her entire being was and will forever be teaching, her grace and excellence in the profession will always have a major impact on me."
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor