Christy deViveiros and Chris Kusske, Indian Trail Elementary first-grade teachers, have taught across the hall, or next door from one another, for 23 years.
They’ve long collaborated on a butterfly unit, growing dozens of nature’s prettiest insects inside their classrooms. One recent school day, the women and their students set free their butterflies.
It was the last official butterfly release for these veteran teachers. Kusske, 64, and deViveiros, who turns 63 in a week, will retire together Wednesday.
“They decided to go out together because they are so interwoven in their practices and collaboration,” said Paul Gannon, Indian Trail’s principal. “They always have fun things happening in their classrooms. Their kids are happy, and not happy because it’s a goof-off, happy because they are learning.”
Recently, the two women sat together in deViveiros’ classroom surrounded by posters of bears, lions, kangaroos and traditional ABCs dancing above the white board. They reminisced on all the changes in their combined five decades’ worth of teaching, changes from B to Z.
Beginnings: In 1968, deViveiros started her teaching career at Madison Elementary School. She was 22. The same year, she married her college sweetheart, Dale deViveiros.
Since age 10, she dreamed of being a teacher. The lifelong Camp Fire camper and musician lived this classroom philosophy: “Show me a concept to teach and I’ll find a camp song to teach it!”
She taught until 1971, when she quit to have a baby. “They had a rule you had to quit when you were six months along,” deViveiros said.
She stayed home with her son and daughter until returning to teaching in 1979, then worked in three elementary schools before settling into the first-grade classroom at Indian Trail in 1986.
Kusske became a teacher at 40, after raising her children and working different jobs, mainly in the creative arts.
“I love children and teaching, so I put them together and picked up my teaching certificate at Whitworth,” she said.
Books: It took reading books a long time to emerge from their Dick and Jane era. Books gradually became more inclusive of gender, race, ethnicity and “there’s more humor in them,” Kusske said.
Chalkboards: About eight years ago, chalkboards were phased out, replaced by white boards. “Chalk is awful – allergies and messy,” deViveiros said.
Challenges: The number of children on the “autism spectrum” has increased dramatically. “Children with these higher needs tend to be more needy than they were in the past, and it’s much harder to handle in the classroom,” Kusske said. “We have great support in the building, but there’s not enough people to help with the children.”
Added deViveiros: “And with budget cuts, it will be even harder.”
Colds: In their first 10 years of teaching, they caught at least one cold a year each. In the last years of their teaching careers, colds became a rarity.
“You build up a great immunity,” Kusske said.
Ditto machines: When deViveiros started out in 1968, teachers used crank-style ditto machines to copy papers.
“I was so thrilled when I came to Indian Trail, and they had one that was electric,” she said. “You just pushed a button.”
First-graders: They are taller and sometimes chubbier than they used to be. Most have used computers since toddlerhood, and some have traveled extensively.
“Parents take them fascinating places,” deViveiros said.
Labeling: Conventional wisdom says first-grade teachers can predict which students will end up in jail and which will run the free world. Kusske and deViveiros disagree. They believe that when you label, you limit.
“It’s a delight at an awards assembly and the older kids are getting honor roll certificates and someone who was only a so-so student (in first grade) is standing up there,” deViveiros said.
Managing their classrooms: “No matter how much you think you know how to teach, if you cannot manage children, it’s not going to work,” Kusske said.
The teachers have used a variety of classroom management techniques over the years that reinforce good behavior.
“You compliment the ones doing it right. I like how you are listening. I like how you are ready to go. When you compliment the good, everybody wants it,” deViveiros said.
•Kusske: Years taught: 24; students taught: 575; student teachers: 16
•deViveiros: Years taught: 32; students taught: 925; student teachers: 20
•Total: Years taught: 56; students taught: 1,500; student teachers: 36
Names: Conventional names gave way to creative names with multiple spellings; gender barriers disappeared as boys and girls shared names such as Erin, Jamie and Stacy.
“For awhile, we had the J names and then suddenly, names that begin with M,” Kusske said.
Parents: The two veteran teachers applaud increased parental devotion to helping their children learn, but the flip side worries them.
“You see parents who are lost,” Kusske said. “They don’t understand what we are teaching.”
Phones: They finally were installed in the teachers’ classrooms about eight years ago, a huge help connecting with parents.
“You used to have to go talk in the corner of the health room,” deViveiros remembered.
Phrases that will retire when they do: “Nobody else blowing noses now” and “Could you sit up straight and tall like big first-graders?”
Reunions: Former students often visit. Amy Guest, 21, a first-grader in deViveiros’ 1994-’95 class, showed up for this year’s butterfly release.
“Mrs. deViveiros always had her guitar,” Guest remembered.
Sit on your pockets: Both women used to sit “crisscross apple sauce” on the floor with the children. Now, the teachers sit on chairs and stools.
Snacks: Peanut and other allergies were rare in the mid-’80s, when Kusske and deViveiros began their teaching partnership. Now, it’s rare not to have allergies in a classroom. Small gifts, such as colorful pencils, replaced birthday cupcakes.
WASL: Thumbs down.
Zero: The number of regrets they have for retiring in 2009. Even before the economy’s nosedive, the women chose this year as their last, but news of teacher layoffs affirmed their decisions.
“We felt really good we were opening up two spots for people,” Kusske said.
Added deViveiros: “It’s almost an obligation, when you’ve had a wonderful career, to pass on the torch.”
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