By TRAVIS MORSE
MT. VERNON — — For Diane Porter, the best part of being a kindergarten teacher is watching students fall in love with school.
And while the job comes with many challenges, hearing a child exclaim “that's so cool” after learning something makes it all worthwhile, Porter said.
“I always said I have the best job in the whole world,” Porter said. “That's because I think I probably see the most gains in a child over a year's time than in any other grade. … Just watching those kids get something and the progress they've made from the beginning of the year — they're kind of babies then — to the end of the year, to me is just so rewarding.”
Porter, 64, of Mt. Vernon retired Monday after 28 years as a kindergarten teacher at McClellan Grade School.
On May 30, the McClellan staff threw Porter a special retirement luncheon where she was presented with a bracelet as a gift.
“She will definitely be missed by everybody around here, not only in kindergarten but she's helped out throughout the school with different things,” said McClellan Superintendent Charlie Peterson. “I'm so appreciative of her 28 years of dedication to the school.”
Porter said her decision to leave was difficult, but the time had come to move on. She now hopes to spend more time with her five grandchildren who live in Olney and Boston, as well as with friends.
She said she may eventually take part-time work at a library or museum, but has no plans to teach again.
“It was time to make the change,” Porter said. “I wanted to enjoy some retirement time when I'm still healthy and can get around and move and travel.”
As a kindergarten teacher, Porter worked a great deal with her students on socialization skills and the importance of treating others with kindness and respect. Her class sizes tended to be small — under 10 students.
“Kids are great. Kids are kids,” Porter said. “You're going to have some bumps along the way and you're going to have some behavior problems, but really at this school we're pretty fortunate. We have nice families, we have nice kids.”
Prior to starting at McClellan, Porter was a substitute teacher for about a year. Before that, she taught preschool at Logan Street Day Care in Mt. Vernon for nine years.
In addition, Porter taught for four years at the Parkway School District in St. Louis.
Over the years, Porter has seen a lot of changes in education, including the increasing use of technology in the classroom.
Porter said she used an iPad in her class and also took her students to the computer lab once a week. There were also a few computers in her room.
Another recent change has involved a transition to the new Common Core standards for English/language arts and math, which are more “inquiry based” and encourage kids to think about “why” and “how,” Porter said.
Through it all, though, Porter said she looks back fondly on her time at McClellan.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my years here,” Porter said. “I thank the board and all of my superintendents for giving me the opportunity to work here. … I've made a lot of friends working here and that means a lot to me.”
Erica Hicks has been hired as Porter's replacement.
Porter lives in Mt. Vernon with her husband, Steve. They have two grown children and five grandchildren.