Michael Duley greeted his fourth-grade students on the last day of class at Madison Elementary School just like it was any other day, when in reality it was a day like no other. It was the last day of his 37-year career as a teacher.
“We’ll play a few board games, take a long recess and enjoy each other one last time,” he said.
At the beginning of each school year Duley sets out the rules for his students. “I tell them that we are going to be a family for 180 days,” he said. “We are going to support each other.”
One of his favorite part of the day comes first thing in the morning. Duley typically clips a few comic strips from his copy of The Spokesman-Review and brings them in for his class to discuss.
He has spent his career teaching fourth through sixth grades, but said he prefers fourth-graders. “I love the age,” he said. “They’re still very supportive of their teacher. They get your jokes more than the primary kids.”
Madison principal Heather Jordan said Duley is part of the foundation of the school. “He kind of is the glue in the building,” she said. “He’s so calm and thoughtful. He really models what he says.”
Duley is the perfect teacher who meets every criterion a principal could have, Jordan said.
“He’s like my favorite human being because of the lives he’s impacted and the people he’s supported,” she said. “If I could have talked him into staying, I would have made him a mentor.”
Duley spent the first 30 years of his career at Arlington Elementary School. He was a literacy coach for his past seven years there, but then funding for the position was cut. He could have gone back to the classroom, but Duley said he didn’t want to bump someone from their spot so he asked to be transferred. Madison Elementary was his number one pick.
“I had been here for a workshop, and I thought it was the greatest school,” he said. “I found a new home. It’s been a wonderful seven years. I was welcomed with open arms from day one.”
As a young child growing up in Newport, Washington, Duley didn’t plan to be a teacher. He wanted to be a professional baseball player. But when he was 12 years old he began mowing the lawn of Sadie Halstead, a teacher who would later become the first female school superintendent in Washington. The town’s middle school is named in her honor.
“She was a mentor, and she talked about teaching,” Duley said. “She gave me a lot of advice.”
Duley visited her after he had earned his teaching certificate. At that point she’d had a stroke and was in a nursing home. “I got to share that with her before she passed,” he said.
He’s been thinking about retirement for the past three years but found the choice a difficult one. “It feels ready,” he said. “I realize you can’t take anything for granted.”
He has three daughters, two of whom live here, and four grandsons. He’s already planning a trip to Houston to visit one of his daughters and grandsons. He also wants to travel and write about his experiences. His first trip, a tour of Southeast Asia, is in the planning stages.
Closer to home, there are 23 lakes and streams in Pend Oreille County where Duley grew up. He said he’s fished in some of them, but not all. “I’d like to fish all of them,” he said. “I’d like to write about all of them and put it in a book, even if it’s just for me.”
But his future plans were in the back of his mind on the last day of school.
“This is real hard,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough day today. A part of me wants to hang on. I still love the job.”
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