Good-bye hugs for Ruth-Ann Flynn, 47-years a teacher
“We’ve gone from blocks to writing and reading,” said Ruth-Ann Flynn.
Monday was Ms. Flynn’s last in the classroom after close to half a century teaching in the Ridgefield schools — kindergarten, mostly, and just about all of it at Ridgebury Elementary School.
“Forty-seven years — 1966,” she said.
She’s taught at Ridgebury 46 of her 47 years with the Ridgefield Schools, and the last 45 years in a row.
“This very room for 29 years,” she said. “I taught second grade for the first 18 years, and kindergarten for the next 29.”
She may not yet realize all that she’ll miss. But what tops that list is an easy question.
“Obviously, the kids. They’re just such a joy,” she said. “This age is such a remarkable age. They blossom. They just make so much growth during the year.”
Kindergarten has changed over the decades, become more academically advanced. But it’s joys and travails are, as always, governed by the hearts of the kids.
“They’re still five-year-old kids,” Ms. Flynn said. “They may be more verbal. They’ve obviously experienced a lot more technology: TV, videos, everything. But they want and need the same things.”
There are increasing demands on the schools to teach more, at younger ages — the testing, the technology, more math, more science.
But it still starts with reading — in kindergarten.
In a corner of Ms. Flynn’s room are small easy chairs with red cushions, a throw-rug with the A-B-Cs on it. Along the wall under the window cubbie-holes are filled with books, stuffed animals.
Atop the shelf sit a few: How Rocket Learned to Read and Dylan’s Day Out, both with friendly looking dogs on their covers, Welcome to Kindergarten and The Scholastic Children’s Dictionary.
Signs state the credo.
“Good readers: Look at pictures and words; Point to words as they read; Think about what they read; Look at the first letter of the word; Look for patterns in the text; Look at the first and last letter of the word.”
And “Reading partners: Sit back-to-back, shoulder-to-shoulder, knee-to-knee. Reading partners take turns, listen, share.”
Kindergarten is no longer just about learning to play nice. But that’s still a big part of it. There’s a lot of socializing amid the academics.
And there’s more time. Kindergarten went full-day in the 2010-11 school year.
“We used to have two and a half hours,” Ms. Flynn said. “So, we still have time for blocks and playhouse and the art center.
“But it is a long day for five-year-olds. Some of them are four-plus when they start. But, they cope with it amazingly well.”
With half-day, a morning group was followed by an afternoon group. Kids had less school, and a teacher had to get to know 40 young personalities each year, not 20.
Maintaining order, keeping everyone on task, is always a challenge with five year olds — never mind a room full of them. A teacher develops a practiced room scan.
“You have to be like a lighthouse all the time, keep eye contact with 19 people,” Ms. Flynn said.
And, there are those little moments of human judgment: When to be firm, when to be consoling, when to emotionally neutral.
Near the end of the last day of school Monday, Ms. Flynn had her kids were outside, blowing bubbles. As buses began to line up in the circular driveway to load pupils for the year’s final ride home, she told children to put down their wands and cups of soapy bubble potion and go back inside to get ready. One little girl had a little trouble letting go of her bubble water.
“You’re not going to be able to take it,” Ms. Flynn said. “It doesn’t have a top.”
When the girl didn’t put her playthings down, the teacher with 47 years of experience simply lifted the cup from her hand, set in the grass, and gently urged her toward the door — without another word.
“In the summer, just summer things. But in the fall — don’t know,” she said.
“See a lot more family and friends. I don’t have children of my own but I have nieces and nephews.”
Ruth-Ann Flynn and her husband, a lawyer, live in Wilton. She plays tennis. She didn’t talk of any grand plan to travel the world, or move to some golden years paradise.
“I just haven’t really reacted yet. I haven’t had time to think about it. I do want to come back, see the kids. See them grow,” she said.
“But, in just five years, these kids will be gone. I’ll have to go to the middle school, and high school.”
As the day ended Ridgebury Principal Jamie Palladino’s voice came on the public address system.
“I want to wish everyone a happy and safe summer,” he said. “Make sure you do your reading, and make sure you get your math packet ... Work hard. Be kind.”
Even summer isn’t summer any more.
School, kindergarten have changed a lot. But successful education isn’t just about teachers, and administrators. It’s a compact with families.
“I’ve always had wonderful parents — helpful, supportive,” Ms. Flynn said. “They want the best for their kids, and they know that’s what we want, too.”
If she’ll miss the kids, it was clear they’ll miss her. The final 10 minutes of the year’s last day — her last day — Ms. Flynn was giving kids hugs, saying goodbye.
A girl quietly presented her with a note carefully written in big print letters:
“I love you Ms. Flynn. Love, Elif.”
And it wasn’t just her kindergartners. Older kids, all the way up to fourth and fifth graders, kept stopping by in the kindergarten room at the very end of Ridgebury’s second floor hallway, to say good-bye, collect a hug from a teacher they’d had three or four years ago.
“Oh, Jillian! I’m going to miss you,” Ms. Flynn said to a fifth grader who stopped in.
Two other girls visited.
“I just wanted to say good-bye,” said one.
Another girl appeared.
“Good-bye, Ms. Flynn.”
“I’m going to miss you, and be sure to come back and visit,” said the teacher.
A mom came in.
“Sara’s very sad you’re leaving,” she said.
Ms. Flynn even got a surprise visit — and flowers — from Timo Muro, a senior who’d graduated Friday from Ridgefield High School.
Another young face at the door.
“Anna!” Ms. Flynn said, giving a hug.
“And your mother — tell her good-bye, too,” she said, explaining “I taught her mother, as well as her.”
“And my aunt!” added Anna.
“It is a joy to have taught children of people I’ve taught,” Ms. Flynn said.
How many times has that happened?
“Fifteen, maybe,” she said.
Her first students are now well into middle age.
“When I first started, I taught second grade and they were seven-year-olds. And that was 47 years ago,” she said. “Seven and 47 — they’d be 54!
“It’s so surreal that this is all over,” she said. “You can’t believe that 47 years could go by like this.”