While the typical fanfare may not be accompanying teachers who retired at the end of this school year, their contributions have still been felt by generations of students.
None of this year’s retiring educators had more opportunities to make an impact on Monroe County students than Jane Huebner, who retired after 35 years of teaching art at Waterloo High School.
“I spent my whole career in the same school in the same district, and not many teachers can say that,” Huebner said proudly.
Huebner got her job at WHS right after graduation from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
She said she was interested in working in Waterloo because it was close to her family and the town itself seemed idyllic.
“Thirty-five years ago, I thought Waterloo was the perfect Norman Rockwell town,” Huebner recalled. “It had all the little stores, vegetable stands and the old IGA. It was a small community that was growing.”
As the town evolved, Huebner used an indirect teaching style she described as focusing on “reflective discussion and guided inquiry,” as opposed to lectures often found in the classrooms where subjects like math are taught.
She said that approach emphasized one of her favorite qualities of art, which is that there can be multiple right answers.
It also helped students, Huebner’s favorite part of her job, to grow and become critical thinkers who were more tolerant.
“The students have been the best thing – just watching them develop their personal voice,” Huebner, who students often called Huebs, explained. “When I first start teaching them, they are scared and they’re nervous. By the time they’re seniors, the way I get to see them mature and handle themselves is just so nice. They feel more empowered, and they’re more successful out there in society. It’s just so nice to know that you might have been a part of that.”
Huebner said she did not face many difficulties in her career, calling Waterloo a “very professional and caring” school district.
“I just loved my job,” Huebner said. “I’ve always loved my job. I just think I was the luckiest person alive because I got to teach high school art.”
But the way this school year ended was one of the most substantial challenges she had encountered.
“Trying to teach over the internet was very challenging and frustrating,” she said.
Huebner will not have to see what school is like going forward amid the coronavirus pandemic, but while she may not miss the hurdles associated with that, she said she will miss her students more than anything.
“They kept me young. They were always introducing me to new music, new styles or even new technology. Now that I’m going to be away from them, I probably won’t understand anything,” Huebner jested. “I’ll be an old fuddy-duddy.”
Still, Huebner said now was the right time for her to retire.
“I guess I just wanted a new chapter in my life,” she said. “I have a whole bucket list that I need to start tackling before it gets too late.”
That bucket list includes backpacking more, working as an equestrian guide in Shawnee National Forest, painting more and volunteering.
“There’s just so much to do before I leave this world,” Huebner said. “I know they’re simple things, but I’ve never seen Colorado in the fall or Vermont. I want to see the Northern Lights. I just don’t want to regret at the end of my life.”