Faces were dripping with a mixture of sweat and tears Monday afternoon at Wyman Elementary, as temperatures soared into the 90s and fourth grade teacher Linda Whittaker retired after 34 years at the school.
It was the last day of classes and students and teachers alike were ready to rush out of the building to begin summer vacation. But not before bidding a fond farewell to Whittaker.
“This is a very bittersweet day,” she said, her eyes watering. “I’ve taught lots of great kids over the years.”
Members of her last class think Whittaker is the one who is great. As they enjoyed popsicles, they expressed their emotions for her.
While Calogero Martra, 10, and Jeffrey Perez, 10, said Whittaker is “very nice and kind to others,” Meryl Jones, 10, Carina Bidon, 10, and Christian Brown, 10, said she is friendly and “really fun.”
Bethany Cicerone, 10, agrees and said Whittaker’s fun-loving attitude shines through in the classroom.
“She makes learning fun because she lets us work as partners,” Bethany said.
Others said she has a knack for guiding them in all subjects, especially social studies and math.
“She was really good at explaining a math lesson,” said Kayla Ryan, 9. “Most of us were having trouble and she just kept going over it until we all got it.”
For Isaac Rodriguez-Jones, 9, Whittaker is the most efficient and patient teacher he’s ever had. Her teaching style, he said, is unlike any other.
“When she teaches a lesson, I understand really fast,” he said.
Jacob Silva, 10, pointed out that Whittaker liked to cook in the classroom. She often incorporated cultural meals to engage students in particular lessons.
“She made chili for a social studies class because it’s a custom to make chili in the southwest,” he said.
Noah Gremour, 10, said he enjoyed the selection of novels she offered students. “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “Loser,” and “Sign of the Beaver” are some of his favorites.
“She has the best books,” he said.
Thomas Sullivan, 10, said he loved that she let them watch movies that accompany the books, along with the fact that she “really cares for us.”
Isabella DeMello, 10, said Whittaker helps students understand the value of friendship along with the importance of treating others with respect.
“She taught us not to say bad stuff about each other,” DeMello said, while Ella Centracchio, 9, added, “she keeps order without yelling.”
No matter what, said Julianna Landi, 10, “she’s always there to help us.”
Principal Ron Celio feels the same. He described her as a one-of-a-kind and “exceptional” teacher.
“She makes sure students care about each other and helps them build character,” he said. “Although there will be a teacher in this room in the fall, no one will ever replace Mrs. Whittaker.”
After sharing their feelings, Whittaker passed out cake to celebrate her retirement, as well as the last day of school for the year. For her, it was the last day of school – ever.
“It’s tough to leave, but in my heart I know that it’s time for a change,” she said. “I’m happy to be moving on, but it’s been the best job anybody could ever have. It’s fulfilling, gratifying, and you make a difference in kids’ lives and they make a difference in yours. They are all so special and every year has been special and different. It’s like a family here.”
Whittaker, who in addition to teaching fourth grade taught disabled children through the years, began her career as a teaching assistant in 1973. Her first job as a teacher was at Conimicut School. After the school closed, she started teaching at Wyman.
Now, she is looking forward to vacationing with her retired husband, Bob. They have a few trips planned, including a stay in England.
But helping to better the lives of children is something she doesn’t plan on giving up anytime soon, as she hopes to volunteer a few days a week at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Deb Gremour, who said two of her five children have had Whittaker, isn’t surprised.
“She’s going to be perfect for Hasbro,” Gremour said. “She’s just such a caring, honest woman. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an unkind word about her. She has a kind, giving heart. She’s a lovely woman and I wish her the best in retirement.”