BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Demarest Elementary School teacher Cynthia McKee will be retiring at the end of this month. McKee, who taught special education for 10 years in Maryland and New York State before coming to Bloomfield, taught first grade at Demarest for 30 years. However she confessed to actually beginning in the district, on a part-time basis, at Oak View Elementary School.
“But I don’t really count that,” she said at the school earlier this week.
McKee loved teaching first grade, having children at the beginning of their school years.
“They’re so excited about being learners,” she said. “You’re opening the world to them. They come in as willing learners.”
She grew up in Pittsburg and obtained her teaching certification from Edinburg State University, located in Edinboro, Pa. For her master’s, she acquired credits from George Washington University and Syracuse University. She obtained her master’s in the art of teaching at Marygrove College, located in Chicago. She then built up more graduate hours, again at Syracuse. Altogether, she has accumulated 60 hours.
McKee’s alma maters are widespread because, after meeting her future husband and marrying, his work took them to various places. They currently live in Bloomfield but are planning to leave.
“We moved here but we never thought to stay,” she said. “But my two boys got involved in the school system, and with their friends. My husband and I are nomads. My boys are in different parts of the country and I don’t believe they are coming back here.”
She said her husband owns a business and that’s a benefit because they are looking around at different states for a place to move. In the meantime, they are going to Europe this summer.
“We don’t have any definite plans,” she said. “My ultimate goal is Vienna and Budapest. We’ve already done the major countries.”
After a 40-year career, McKee has seen changes in her profession.
“Teaching has become more directed from the top,” she said. “Experience is not a valued as it once was. My experience and background isn’t relied upon as it once was.”
Life, she said, has provided her with skills on how best to educate a 6-year-old.
“A lot of times we have to do things that are counter to a child’s development,” she said.
McKee decide this year to retire. She figured that eventually she had to retire and she was not getting any younger.
Students have changed too, over the years.
“With the advent of two parents that have to work, the family dynamics have changed,” she said. “The children need more support from the school. They come to school with fewer language skills and the ability to express themselves. That makes teaching language arts more difficult.”
She also thought children are not as independent as they once were. And they do not play with other children as much as they once did.
“Playing facilitates problem solving,” she said. “I made up games and played in the streets. Now someone tells children what to do. Parents don’t have the time to explain to their children why they must do certain things. I think it goes back to families trying to survive.”
She said when June rolls around, it is not uncommon for former Demarest students to come by the school to fill you in on their lives, and to take a last look around before heading off to another part of their life. Some student return by computer.
“I just had a student email me a month ago,” Mckee said. “He had found a picture of himself in first grade.”
She said this student checked out the roster of Demarest teachers and found her still working at the school. So he got in touch.
“He’s a professor at Wake Forest University,” she said. “He said he got his love of learning from here.”
McKee also mentioned Jessica Barton, another former student of hers and now a Demarest colleague. Barton was the Bloomfield School District “Teacher of the Year” in 2017.
“She said she got her love of learning from the first grade,” McKee said.
But in spite of a successful career as an educator, she said if anyone asked for advice, she would tell them not to become a teacher.
“I don’t feel as positive as I once did,” she said. “It’s a profession that I don’t think is respected as much. You don’t have the autonomy that you once did.”
But if you asked for her advice five years ago, McKee said she might have encouraged someone to teach.
“Pensions and health benefits are being taken away,” she said. “And you can get a better salary elsewhere.”
She said some teachers will have to pay for supplemental health insurance after Medicare picks up its portion of the bill. But McKee said because of when she began teaching, she was grandfathered in under the old rules and will receive her health benefits.
“Teaching doesn’t look as positive as a secure career as it did 30 years ago,” she said.