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June 3, 2010

Retiring Vigo County teacher looks back on career

John Treager ending 43 years in classroom

TERRE HAUTE — As his final day of teaching drew to a close, Honey Creek Middle School teacher John Treager received a group hug from several of his sixth-grade students.

The science teacher received well-wishes from many current and past students, teachers and a parent as he concluded his 43-year teaching career Thursday afternoon.

“Mr. Treager, I’m keeping this in memory of you,” said Miguel Jimenez, who held an empty bag that had contained Tootsie Rolls. Treager has long used the sweet treats to motivate kids, tossing them a Tootsie Roll in exchange for the correct answer to a question. 

Nowadays, he calls them “lloreistoot,” which he tells his students means “carrot sticks in Swahili.” (Not really — it’s just Tootsie Roll spelled backward.)

Teachers are encouraged to provide healthier treats these days, but Treager knows what works.

He began his teaching career at Franklin Elementary in 1967. Bob Mardis was the principal, and a great mentor, he said. Treager spent 13 years there, and another 13 years at Hoosier Prairie Elementary, where Darrell Roundtree was then principal. Treager has been at Honey Creek since it opened 17 years ago.

Thursday was an emotional day for Treager, just as it was for dozens of  longtime teachers and administrators throughout the Vigo County School Corp. who have taken advantage of the district’s early retirement offer. Ten administrators and 83 teachers took the early retirement.

“It’s been a great 43 years,” said Treager, who’s had an impact on three generations of students.

Jimenez, who is from Mexico and has been in Terre Haute for the past 1 1/2 years, said Treager has made his first year at Honey Creek a good one. “He always makes things happy,” the sixth-grader said. “He is really respectful to students, teachers” and everyone.

Treager worked with Jimenez on reading vocabulary and science, and he also helped Jimenez make friends by encouraging all students to talk to each other and interact.

“It’s been a great year,” Jimenez said. “I think I will remember it always.”

His mother, Rosaura, said Treager “has been a hero for my child.” At the end of each day, her son always talked about his science teacher. “I’m very sad to lose this great man,” she said.

Treager’s students are sad to see him retire as well. “He makes science come alive,” said student Brandon Losier.

Another student, Megan Mauriello, said Treager makes science classes fun through stories and jokes. “He makes the class really interesting,” she said. He gets to know his students well, “and if you have problems, he’ll come and help you,” she said.

Students in the sixth-grade “Explorer” team gave Treager a T-shirt they had signed, and they also gave him a book in which students wrote something personal.

 Mauriello wrote to Treager, in part, “You have taught me respect. Every time you gave me an assignment, I made sure I did the best I could because I wanted to please you. I also feel like you have taught me to try and do the absolute best I can.”

When Treager started his career in education, he aspired to be an elementary principal – but three years later, he realized the classroom was where he wanted to be.

His approach with students is “to take them where they are at and you work with them from there.”

He also believes it’s important to connect with kids. “It makes a difference … They know if you’re sincere or not.”

Honey Creek Principal Pat Sheehan, who also is retiring this year, said Treager treats students with respect, uses humor to help them learn and challenges them to do their best. He keeps parents informed about what is happening in the classroom.

Sheehan, whose contract ends June 30, has been a Vigo County educator for 39 years – 10 of those as principal at Honey Creek.

As Treager prepares for retirement, he said he’ll be busy with a new 2 1/2-month-old grandson whom he describes as “the smartest kid I ever met … I can already see he’s going to be a genius.”

He also enjoys working in his woodshop and golfing. He said his wife and “boss,” Nancy, will keep him busy.

While he believes he’s ready for retirement, he’s heard from other retired teachers that the start of the next school year can be tough as they watch everyone else return to school.

To combat the “empty nest” syndrome, Treager has told other teachers retiring from Honey Creek to plan to meet at a local restaurant for breakfast when school starts Aug. 17. “We won’t go through that empty nest syndrome,” he said.

But as school ended Thursday, there was a certain emptiness in his room after students had left, many of them taking Treager’s personal classroom items that he no longer wanted.

In that classroom, he met with Dustin Speth, a teacher at Davis Park Elementary who will take Treager’s place next year. Treager showed Speth around and offered to help him make the transition to Honey Creek.

Another teacher welcomed Speth, but also told him, “You have big shoes to fill.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

 

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