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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mead’s Dori Whitford hated school growing up. Now, she’s retiring after decades as a teacher

Mead English teacher and track and cross country coach Dori Whitford is retiring from Mead High School, saying she hopes to continue some coaching in retirement. She is shown at the high school’s track on Thursday.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a Spokesman-Review series on longtime teachers who are retiring.

Mead High School Principal Jeff Naslund admits to being a bit worried about retiring teacher Dori Whitford.

“She is a very active person, and I would hate to see her not remain busy,” Naslund said last week.

There’s really no chance of that for Whitford, a celebrated English teacher who’s also coached girls state championship track and cross country teams at Mead High School.

This fall, Whitford will be back in charge of the cross country program and setting a pace in retirement that most people fail to match during the height of their careers.

“I’ll be back,” she said last week.

And yet Whitford was seemingly stuck in neutral during her high school years, which also were spent at Mead.

“I hated school because it was kind of boring,” Whitford said. “But running kept me out of trouble. I could have been a criminal pretty easily.”

She certainly wasn’t planning on going back to school, and certainly not to Mead.

“After I got off the yellow bus after my last track meet, I said, ‘I’m never going to ride one of these again,’ ” she recalled.

Yet there were role models, people who told Whitford that she would make a great teacher. College counselors told her otherwise, warning her that “there are a million teachers out there – don’t do it.”

Whitford did so anyway, combining her passions for English and track and landing at the tiny high school in Springdale, Washington.

“I loved it there,” said Whitford, who founded the cross country program at Springdale. After six years at West Valley, she came home to Mead in 2001.

“In terms of sacrificing for others, cross country is the best team sport there is,” Whitford said. “You can’t sub people in once the race starts, and it offers life lessons of stepping up, dealing with failure and sacrificing for others.”

Failure was rare, as the Panthers won state titles in both cross country and track, along with several runner-up finishes.

“I don’t keep track, but it so hard to win a state track title,” Whitford said.

But Whitford is about more than winning, Naslund said.

“She just loves putting on races, and she’s very opinionated on that – making sure they’re safe and that there’s integrity in the sport,” Naslund said.

Whitford also has coached winners in the classroom, especially in the national Poetry Out Loud program.

“It’s one of the programs that we can hang our hat on,” Naslund said.

In Poetry Out Loud, students master public speaking skills and build self-confidence, while also learning how to connect with and analyze literature in new ways. Whitford’s program is one of the most successful in the state, with Langston Ward winning a national championship in 2013.

Drew Lochhead, a student-teacher under Whitford 16 years ago and now one of her colleagues, said he’s always been impressed by her loyalty and generosity.

“I don’t think people know that about her,” said Lochhead, who also respects Whitford for maintaining high standards in the classroom.

“I have a great class of students this year,” said Whitford, who teaches honors English. “I’m going to miss a lot of those students and the classroom, though I won’t miss correcting papers.”

Despite Naslund’s concerns, there will be plenty to do.

Whitford has a family, rental property and a pent-up desire to travel the world.

“The one thing I’m not going to do is make any meeting or appointment before 10 a.m.

As for lunch, it will be not be eaten at 11:06 a.m., the traditional lunch time at Mead.

“Any time other than that,” Whitford said.