MSES teacher retiring after 33 years in district
It has never seemed like work to Charlene Potter and she has her students to thank for that.
In the 34 years Potter has been a teacher, she has taught approximately 1,000 students. While that might seem like a lot to some, she said she has continued to teach for so long because the students, who affectionately refer to her as Mrs. P, make her job enjoyable.
"Kids are what make teaching what it is," she said. "It's a fun job. It really is."
But in less than two weeks, despite her love for her job and the students, the Marion Springs Elementary School fifth-grade teacher will retire.
"The hardest decision was deciding to do it," Potter, 69, said. "But this is just a nice time to stop."
Teaching wasn't always Potter's profession. She began as a professional musician, but after her touring company went on strike, she went back to school.
Upon receiving her master's degree, she accepted a job at Baldwin in 1968 and started the district's first remedial reading program. After seven years at the Baldwin schools, she spent a year teaching in Connecticut.
"We just wanted to travel and see the northeast," she said.
The following year, Potter re-applied in Baldwin and accepted a teaching position at MSES where she has spent the last 26 years.
"I just fell in love with this community," she said of MSES. "It's just the best kept secret. I've always loved it out here and I never wanted to leave."
Even though she started out at MSES as a first-grade teacher, she said she has taught everything from first to fifth grades, her favorite being fifth.
"They kind of blossom in fifth grade," she said. "They're independent and have a great sense of humor. They're almost adults but not quite."
Besides being responsible for her classroom, Potter has been also instrumental in the school's annual science fair projects as well as the environmental center.
"Because of her, the environmental center is one that is still evolving and will continue to evolve as the years go by," MSES principal Gus Wegner said.
Her fifth-grade students also get caught up in Potter's love of science.
"I enjoy nature," Hanna Broyles said, "and she always takes us on long nature field trips. No one else does that."
"She always helps me with my environment work," Cody Kruger said. "She's a great teacher."
Potter said she enjoys seeing her students become excited about science.
"It's fun to have kids come back and say 'Do you remember that science fair project I did?'" she said. "They actually remember them."
Even though her main focus is science, Wegner said she reaches the students in all of the subjects.
"Charlene is a very multi-talented teacher," he said. "She's able to integrate disciplines as well as anyone I've known. To me, that is so key."
Even though she's currently the fifth-grade teacher, Wegner said she affects all of the MSES students.
"She cares very deeply for the kids," he said. "She's very child-centered and it's a pleasure to watch her interact with the kids."
MSES secretary Glenda Rockers said Potter relates well not only with the students, but with everyone.
"She is a very genuine, kind, warm person," Rockers said. "She treats everyone with respect no matter what their job is."
Brett Pittenger, who had Potter as a fifth-grade teacher 11 years ago, said he remembered looking forward to her class.
"She's very caring," he said. "She makes education fun and she makes learning easier than most teachers. I just thought she was excellent."
Pittenger, who is currently a paraprofessional at Baldwin Elementary School and attends Johnson County Community College, said Potter inspired him.
"She's mostly the reason I wanted to become a teacher. She likes to see kids learn," he said. "If I can be half the teacher that she is when I become one, then that would be great."
Rockers said Potter could have won a number of teaching honors and awards over the years, but never wanted to be nominated.
"She said we're all good teachers," Rockers said. "She didn't want any special recognition for the job she enjoyed doing."
The enjoyment she got from teaching was a main reason why Potter said she hadn't retired earlier.
"Every day is a new experience. Each day is never the same," she said. "It's a job I look forward to just about every day."
While she said she will remain busy after retirement with volunteer work at the school, cooking and her 11 grandchildren, she will miss her days at MSES.
"When September rolls around, I'm going to miss meeting that first class," she said. "And I will miss the whole fellowship of the teaching community."
And Wegner said Potter will be missed as well.
"She's the most outstanding teacher I've ever been associated with," he said. "The legacy she has left is extensive. It's a void no one can fill."
Potter said she has felt privileged to be able to spend her life working with students in a school setting.
"I just can't imagine anything I'd enjoy more."