Debra Halstead fairly bubbled with energy, even if it was nearly the last day of school. She beamed as she spoke to children, congratulating them on advancing to the next grade.
But after 37 years as a teacher, all spent at Garfield Elementary, school is out permanently for Halstead as she enters retirement.
“I absolutely love Garfield,” she said. “I am very passionate about education and teaching. I love kids.”
Over the years Halstead taught third through sixth grades, spending most of her years in a fourth-grade classroom. She has been a reading and writing coach for the past nine years, working in all the classrooms, and has also been working with children who need a little extra help in those academic areas for the past three years.
Halstead is originally from Seattle and moved here to attend Whitworth University. She met and married her husband here and stayed.
“No two days have ever been the same,” she said. “The only real constant about education is that it continues to change. I find that exciting.”
She said she can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a teacher. “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I used to teach the neighborhood kids.”
Halstead said she likes being able to form long-term relationships with kids and help them with whatever challenges they have. “You can be a really important part of their lives,” she said.
She has also appreciated the benefits of working with the same co-workers over the years, several of whom have also spent an extended period of time at Garfield. “These are my colleagues that were chosen for me, but we’ve also become very, very good friends,” she said.
Moran Prairie Elementary Principal Clint Price was Halstead’s principal for seven years until this year. He called her an amazing person and phenomenal teacher who knows how to get the best out of kids.
“She just has a way of connecting with people whether they’re 5 or 12 or 25 or 85,” he said.
Some of her success was in the way she learned about what each child liked and disliked and used that to make a connection. “She caters those lessons to the individual kiddo,” Price said.
Children and staff alike will miss having Halstead as a role model, Price said. “I loved working with her,” he said. “I’m sad for kids.”
It appears that the children and staff of Garfield agree with Price. They dedicated a plaque honoring Halstead’s decades of service that hangs on the wall just inside the front door and renamed the hall running by the office Halstead Hall.
Halstead said she was touched by the honors. “It was just so sweet,” she said. “I was just overwhelmed.”
The decision to retire was a difficult one, Halstead said. Her husband, Jeff, an English teacher at Ferris High School, will continue to work, but Halstead said she wants to spend time with her elderly parents. “I want that gift of time,” she said.
Halstead has sat on various state and national education committees, and she said she will continue that work, which will help her transition into retirement. “I am absolutely the worst retiree,” she said. “It’s such a huge part of who I am.”
She plans to come back and volunteer at Garfield.
“I know I will not be one of those people they never see again,” she said. “I just love the people here. I will not be a stranger.”
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