Kaye Chitmon hangs up crayons after 28 years

Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Tomorrow (Thursday, May 31), at about noon, the bells will ring at Cedar Park Elementary School and bring down the curtain on the 2000-2001 school year. And for Kaye Chitmon, the bells will announce the end of a long and successful career as an elementary school teacher.

For Mrs. Chitmon, it will be a bittersweet exodus from a vocation that has produced more than its share of happy memories. But, the bells will open the door for a new period in her life as she launches a retirement she says will be filled with travel, books, crafts and, above all, time for her four, soon to be five, grandchildren.

Her retirement will bring to a close a career spanning some 28 years in elementary education teaching over 400 students, some of whom have, in recent years, been children of former students.

"I decided I better get out of here before I start teaching the grandchildren," she laughed, quickly adding, "don't write that down. Oh, my."

Mrs. Chitmon received her bachelor of science in education degree from Arkansas State University in January of 1965. Her husband received his degree from ASU in May of that year and started his four-year Reserve Officer Training School (R.O.T.C.) military obligation - hence, the traveling around that placed Kaye in several schools. He later went on to complete his studies as a pharmacist and the two own Super V Drugs in Jonesboro where he plies his trade.

Of the 28 years Kaye spent in the teaching field, the first two were in Oklahoma where her husband, Wendell, was stationed during his military service. She then went on to Pulaski County Schools near Little Rock and then to Blytheville Air Force Base.

But, for 21 of those years, she has been teaching the first grade at Cedar Park where she taught everything from math to her favorite subject, reading.

"One of my main goals has not only been to produce independent readers, but more importantly, a love of reading," she said. "It's one of the best things a teacher can do. Reading is the key to all other subjects."

And while pursuing that all important goal, Mrs. Chitmon says she has seen a lot of changes in the teaching profession. One of those is a crisis in America that has placed additional burdens on the educational system.

"The breakdown of the family unit has created a different atmosphere in the schools," she emphasizes. "It has meant more responsibilities for the teachers and the schools. A teacher wears many hats, and now we must take a lot of responsibility for parenting, in a way."

"I hate seeing kids going home to an empty house," she said sadly. She was referring to the syndrome that received much attention in the past as the aptly named "latchkey kids" were targeted for prominent coverage in all medias. That coverage has died out with the media, but it is still a topic of great concern for educators and school administrators.

As though wanting to break away from this troubling subject, Mrs. Chitmon chuckled and began telling of how teachers sometimes will "pat themselves on the back when they think they've really done well, but students can turn that around real quick."

She then recalled how a student she had worked with had gone from being a "come to school in a car" type to her new situation riding the school bus.

"I asked her if she knew which bus she was supposed to ride home and she said, 'I sure do.' Well, I was really pleased with myself because I had really gotten through to this child. I then asked her, 'Which bus is it?' And my student said, 'The yellow one.'"

"And I thought I had done so well," she continued. "Students can set you straight."

Turning back to a serious note, Mrs. Chitmon said, "I will miss it (teaching). It was not an easy decision to make. I was waking up nights, thinking about it."

One thing is sure, she doesn't want to be at home when school starts next year. She and her husband have agreed they will plan a trip for that time and be far from Trumann. It is a therapeutic thing for her, so she isn't nearby when the little people return to classes.

"I really enjoyed working with the staff," she said of her lengthy tenure in the education field. "And I really enjoyed the children. I will certainly miss my kids."

She pointed out that the start of every school year represents a new situation, a new challenge.

"After all my years of teaching," she says, "I still had butterflies the night before the first day of a new school year."

But, she points out, despite the nervous jitters, teaching first grade is filled with surprises because "the children are fun. In the first grade, they want to please me, and they want to please their moms."

And, she says, "I love their honesty at that age."

Looking across her classroom as the children came back in from recess, she smiled and noted that "this is one of the best groups I've ever had."

A child then approached her desk and held out a finger for inspection. "I've got a cut," the child said. The finger was ceremoniously investigated and a course of action prescribed.

"You almost have to be a nurse and a dentist if you're going to be an elementary teacher," she laughed.

"I always said that when I retire, I want it to be on a really good year," she said. "And this is a great year to go out on."

For Wayne Beaumont, principal at Cedar Park Elementary School, Mrs. Chitmon's retirement is a sad occasion.

"She's (Mrs. Chitmon) one of the best of the best," Beaumont said this week. "She just likes kids and she likes being a teacher. I hate to lose her."

Then, leaning back in his chair and putting on his most serious expression, he summed up, "She's what a teacher should be, and that's the best way I can say it."

The fact that Beaumont is also retiring this year doesn't diminish his feelings in the matter. He may be leaving the profession, but the profession will never leave him. The children have always come first with him.

And that is how Mrs. Chitmon has lived her life - for the children.

The difference after May 31 is that she will be dedicating a great deal of time to her grandchildren. She already has four and another is on the way. That's quite a decrease in class size, but she doesn't seem to mind.

And when she gives her next Mother's Day Tea (something she did most of the 21 years she taught at Cedar Park for the students and their mothers), it will be a smaller gathering. But, again, she doesn't seem to mind.

It isn't that she won't miss her students, because she has already said she would miss them "terribly".

And they will undoubtedly miss her. This was obvious this week in her classroom as her children teased her at the urging of a Democrat reporter. The love showing on their faces as they pretended she wouldn't be missed was obvious. Their giggles were giveaways.

They know, as does she, that a bond was established between them over the past year. It was a bond that only a truly gifted teacher can forge. Retirement can't break it.

Over 400 students will remember Mrs. Chitmon, along with fellow teachers, administrators, parents, etc. And they will remember her fondly.

Is there more anyone can ask of life?

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