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Teaching kindergarten 32 years at Sheridan Elementary has been ‘absolutely perfect’

Melissa Cote is retiring after 32 years teaching kindergarten at Sheridan Elementary School. She has taught for 35 years. Here she gets a high-five from Nevaeh Dye as her students color their last picture of the year, Wednesday, June 13, 2018. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Melissa Cote is retiring after 32 years teaching kindergarten at Sheridan Elementary School. She has taught for 35 years. Here she gets a high-five from Nevaeh Dye as her students color their last picture of the year, Wednesday, June 13, 2018. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

On the second to last day of school, kindergarten teacher Melissa Cote sat in her nearly empty classroom at Sheridan Elementary School and took stock of her 35-year career in education. She will not be coming back in the fall.

She’s so used to the end-of-school routine that the reality of her retirement hasn’t fully sunk in yet. “I think it’ll hit me more in September because I’m used to having the summer,” she said.

Cote spent the last 32 years of her career teaching kindergarten at Sheridan.

“They’re little, they’re fun, they love the teacher,” she said. “They come brand new. You start from the beginning with them and by the end of the year they’ve grown so much.”

She participated in a job-sharing position with another teacher for the past three years. Her teaching partner, Kristen Rabold, taught reading and literature in the morning and Cote taught math and writing in the afternoon.

“It’s been a really nice way to wean out,” she said. “It’s been absolutely wonderful. It’s been perfect.”

Cote said she never thought she’d spend so long at one school. “It just happened,” she said. “It is so family here. You just get to know the community.”

She’s taught siblings of former students and now, near the end of her career, she’s had former students request that she teach their children. “That has been fun,” she said.

She’s the last of a group of long-term teachers who had been at Sheridan for 20 years or more. “That’s why I never left,” she said. “Staff changes, but many of us were here.”

Cote grew up in Omak and came to the area to attend Eastern Washington University. She always loved school and loved her teachers. “I don’t remember not wanting to be a teacher,” she said.

Brian Melody, now one of the district’s two elementary school directors, was Cote’s principal for six years. Cote is soft-voiced in the classroom but emphasized teaching children how to get along, not just math, he said.

“You’re really teaching the whole child,” he said. “She made learning fun.”

Melody noted that kindergarten has changed a lot during Cote’s tenure. Thirty-five years ago there was a lot more play time. “We sort of swung back to every minute counts,” he said. “Kindergarten changed dramatically early in her tenure. She adapted very well to whatever was expected, but always kept the whole kiddo in mind.”

Cote is a veteran teacher who also supported and coached her fellow teachers, Melody said. “She’s a great person. We’ll miss her.”

Her husband of 34 years, Steve, is a financial planner, and the couple have two grown children, a son and a daughter. Cote said she was thinking about possibly retiring in a year or two until her daughter announced she was expecting a son in September. That convinced her it was time. Cote said she’s eager to babysit “as much as they want me to.”

She also wants to do some traveling but doesn’t plan to completely abandon Sheridan.

“I will be back to volunteer,” she said. “I know everybody here too well.”

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