Next stop: Hall of Fame
Pressure from her former principal and staff led Charlene Potter to filling out pages of paper work and taking that dreadful picture.
Potter, a former Marion Springs Elementary School teacher, took her principal's advice in January. All of that paper work paid off in April, when she was selected for induction into the Kansas Teacher's Hall of Fame.
"It was worth all of the paper work," Potter said. "It wasn't that difficult. I probably wouldn't have done it if I hadn't had a nice gentle push from the staff at Marion Springs."
She received a phone call from her former principal early in April, but thought he wanted her to substitute teach. However, he had some good news for her.
"I had a really good feeling because she is deserving for many reasons," MSES Principal Gus Wegner said. "I called her right after my class and she was excited."
After teaching for 33 years, Potter was honored to be selected for the Hall of Fame in Dodge City.
"It was kind of a nice closing," Potter said. "I really do feel like I've done a pretty good job. I worked for 33 years and I gave it my all. So it was a nice closing to all of that."
Despite teaching for all of those years, Potter never considered she would be chosen for the Teacher's Hall of Fame.
"I never gave it a thought," Potter said. "All of the praise you really need is for some of your students to come back and say I am taking science in college because of you or something like that. Those are the kind of things that really count."
Wegner said Potter's teaching methods and caring personality make her an excellent choice for the Hall of Fame.
"She is one of the most talented people I know," Wegner said. "She is a true professional. She cares greatly for her students and her colleagues. She looks at everyone as being important. It's her positive approach to everything that sets her apart."
One of her former students, Tammy Lamb, now teaches at MSES. Potter taught Lamb in first, second and fifth grades, before teaching in a class at Baker, also.
Lamb was thrilled to see Potter selected for the Hall of Fame.
"She definitely belongs there," Lamb said. "I had many teachers, but she touched so many lives. She still brings that love of kids and the world when she substitutes."
Potter began and ended her teaching in the Baldwin district, but she didn't spend all of her years in Kansas. She taught one year at Baldwin Elementary School before heading to Connecticut with her family.
One year later she returned to Baldwin wanting to take any position available in the district. She was hired as the first and second grade combination teacher at MSES.
"We were ready to come back to Baldwin and I said 'I'll take anything you have,'" Potter said. "I took the combo job of first and second grades at Marion Springs. I fell in love with Marion Springs."
During her 26 years at MSES, Potter gave her students much more than a classroom education. She taught the basics while incorporating science and environmental aspects of the world.
Potter's students could often be seen outside experimenting with nature and receiving an education.
"You'd be surprised how you can work it into the curriculum and not stray away from what you're supposed to do," Potter said. "We still did math inside, but kids enjoy learning other ways."
Her reasoning for teaching that way was simple. It worked.
"It was exciting, because the minute you bring in anything scientific, the kids are immediately interested," Potter said. "If you can work it around science, it seems like you have them catch it."
One exercise Potter always enjoyed was camping out with her students. The class would construct a teepee and cook out. One day the wind almost took one of her students away with the teepee.
"The main thing I remember, and the kids probably do too, are the camp outs," Potter said. "We camped out at least once or twice a year. We had an authentic teepee, which was hard to get up each time.
"One time I can remember we were putting up the teepee and it was a really windy day," Potter said. "Lauren Gilges was helping and a gust of wind came up and she went way up into the air. I still remember thinking 'how do I get her down?'"
Lamb remembers how Potter always taught her students to enjoy the environment.
"She was always centered on kids," Lamb said. "You couldn't leave her room without a love for animals and nature."
At the end of the 2002 school year, Potter retired from teaching. The state assessments impacted her decision to leave the classroom.
"I thought the time was right," Potter said. "I realized the time to teach like I wanted was getting smaller and smaller with the assessments. They were just starting then. I wasn't sure that's what I wanted to spend my last years doing. I feel sorry for the teachers now. They don't have the luxury of taking the time to do projects like we used to do."
Now she substitute teaches at MSES on occasion. While filling in sometimes, Potter sees her students' children, which is a bit frightening to her.
"What's really scary is I am seeing some of their kids," Potter said of her former students. "When I go out and substitute, their kids are there. It's kind of scary."
Potter will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on June 2 in Dodge City along with the rest of the 2007 class.
"I really am ready," Potter said of the induction. "Glenda (Rockers, secretary at MSES) made sure I finally got my rooms reserved. The hardest part was having to get my picture taken. It's not my thing. I am looking forward to it. It should be a fun day. Gus will introduce me. He is probably more nervous than I am."
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