Mt. Vernon Register-News

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January 30, 2011

After 30 years of teaching it’s time to say good-bye

MT. VERNON — One Mt. Vernon Township High School teacher is saying good-bye to education after 30 years of teaching students across Illinois.

Tena Dawson, family and consumer science teacher at MVTHS since 1999, will retire at the end of this school year.

“I’m looking forward to spending time with my five grandchildren,” Dawson said. “I’ve got some in Fairfield, and I might have to take a few trips to Georgia.”

Dawson grew up in Peoria and attended Eastern Illinois University and the University of Illinois, where she received her bachelor’s degree in family and consumer science. She attained her master’s from Western Illinois University in elementary education.

“I started out teaching for one year at Limestone High School near Peoria,” she said. “Then I taught at Tylon High School in Stark County, and I was there for 13 years.”

After teaching in Stark County, Dawson and her family moved to Mt. Vernon, where she started off substitute teaching. She taught English and language arts at Ashley Grade School before working part time for both MVTHS and Webber Township High School.

In 1998, she began teaching full time at MVTHS, working in the Illinois Graduates Program, a system where teachers worked with at-risk students their senior year and the year after to help them with jobs, Dawson said.

Dawson currently teaches clothing and textiles, foods and nutrition, adult living and child growth and development classes.

She said the biggest changes she’s noticed over her years of teaching are in the technology and the amount of respect teachers are given.

“I don’t feel disrespected very often, but it seems like some of the students feel like they can do whatever they want,” she said. “Computers are good, but cell phones are enough to drive anyone crazy. ... Computers are fantastic. I remember when I taught fourth grade, we had one computer in the classroom for 20 kids, and the idea was that we’d put a program on there and they’d rotate. Now we can go to the labs here, we have all these beautiful labs. It’s fantastic the way we can communicate and look things up.”

Dawson said she feels local students are very interested in vocational topics of learning.

“I don’t think they get as much of it at home,” she said. “They’re very interested in culinary arts and kids.”

She said she teaches introductory classes that help students get into a path of interest, and said she believes students are very enthusiastic about “the whole of the vocational department.”

Dawson has three sons who are all married, she said. One lives in Georgia, one lives in Highland, and the youngest lives in Mt. Vernon. Dawson said her youngest son and his wife are expecting a baby girl, who was due Jan. 24.

She said one of the reasons she went into teaching was because her schedule would match her sons’ schedules.

“When they were young, it was difficult, because I had to wake them up and get them ready, but as they got school age, it was always very convenient,” she said. “It was difficult at times, but not undoable.” 

She said she plans to stay in Mt. Vernon during her retirement.

Dawson said she believes Mt. Vernon would be benefited by a new high school.

“We definitely need one,” she said. “We need to have all these kids under one roof, for a lot of reasons. I think pride would improve, and I think a lot of positive changes would come out of (building a new school).”

She said she hopes that the community will be able to see the need for a new school building.

“I’ve never been to a school with so many buildings,” she said. “It’s truly impossible to secure. I think for our security, we all need to be under one roof.”

Dawson added that in other communities where new high schools have recently been built, she believes community pride has increased.

“Mt. Vernon Township High School has really great kids who do wonderful things... People have never seen a campus that looks like this,” she said. “I think for the pride of the city and growth of the city, we need a new school.”

Dawson said when she retires, she expects to miss her students.

“There are really wonderful students who are friendly, easy to work with and help keep you young,” she said. “I have also worked with some good people here. I will miss some of the staff here, too.”

However, she said she won’t miss getting up early.

“I like to sleep in,” she said. “As soon as I’m off school, I shift back and I’m up half the night.”

She said in addition to spending time with her grandchildren, she hopes to travel, scrapbook and do more things for her church.

“I’m a very avid scrap booker,” she said. “I’m constantly working on one page or another. I like to read, I like to travel; I love going to new and different places.”

Dawson said she hopes to take a trip to New England in the fall.

“Teachers don’t get to take fall trips,” she said. “I may not get to go on my first year out, but I do want to go sometime. I’ve been in summer and it’s lovely.”

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