ST. ALBANS – Retiring St. Albans Town Educational Center (SATEC) literacy specialist Lea Menkens was employed at the end of July 1978.
She has been teaching for an extraordinary and incredibly respectable amount of time.
“I have been teaching for 42 years – my entire professional career in St. Albans Town – starting in August of 1978, down at the old ‘Bay School’ (later renamed the James P. Callaghan Memorial School.) Eleven of those years were as a self-contained first-grade teacher; all other years I have worked in supportive reading positions, working in grades 1-8 with both small groups and individuals,” she said.
Menkens said that an interesting detail about the start of her career was that the position was supposed to be covering a one-year leave of absence as a remedial reading teacher.
“Well, the teacher on leave never returned, and that one-year position became a 42-year career!” Menkens said.
As Menkens reminisces, she thinks of her favorite thing about teaching.
“My favorite thing about teaching is the joy I see in my youngest students when they become confident in themselves as readers. When they become lost in a book and don’t want to stop reading; that is the gift our students give us each day,” Menkens said.
While running through the many years of her career, Menkens recalls one of her happy memories – a pen pal project she used to do each year when she taught first grade.
“My mother, Gladys, was a second-grade teacher for many years at the St. Albans City School. We would pair our students up and write letters throughout the year, back and forth. In the spring we would take field trips to visit each other at our respective schools,” she said, adding that they would organize fun activities for the students to do together.
“I’ve always enjoyed writing for a purpose, and this was ideal in that regard. Those are very happy memories. My mother died nearly three years ago now, so the memories have become even more precious,” Menkens said.
While not quite an achievement, Menkens fondly thinks of her former students.
“I’m not sure if I would call this my greatest achievement, but when I see former students who fondly remember their time with me at school, it is extremely gratifying. I truly believe that how we nurture the students in our care has a lasting impact on their lives,” Menkens said.
Throughout all her years of teaching, Menkens can easily choose what she loves to teach the most.
“I love teaching reading – all ages, really. The quality and variety of children’s literature available to even the very beginning readers has improved immeasurably over the years,” Menkens said.
As her years of teaching come to a close, Menkens thinks of her plans for the future and the joy of unstructured days.
She is looking forward to “days that simply unfold naturally, with time to notice and experience all the day has to offer,” she said, adding that those days might include “puttering in my flower garden, taking an early morning snowshoe trek, or delving into a new book and reading for hours.”
Simple pleasures, she said, can turn out to be quite profound and memorable.
Menkens said that she has several very close friends who are retired, and the idea of being able to meet somewhere for coffee sounds appealing.
“Oh, and not having to shovel at 5 a.m.,” she said.
While her last months of school were from her home, Menkens happily thinks of the skills she’s learned from the experience.
“I think this period of remote learning has improved some of my tech skills, which are not the strongest! I have managed to hold student lessons, when initially I thought that would be way outside my comfort zone,” she said. “I now think it has been a challenge that helped me to grow.”
As Menkens leaves SATEC, she thinks that what she wants to take and what she wants to leave behind go together for her.
“I love to imagine the sea of faces during Friday morning School Sing – all students and staff in grades K-3 singing together, moving together, enjoying being part of a strong and close knit community. That tradition has endured for over 30 years. I will miss that weekly gathering intensely, and do not know how or if it will continue with the new fears of COVID-19 and large groups in close quarters,” she said.
Menkens noted that School Sing may become a treasured memory for students and adults alike.
While she is leaving, Menkens thinks of her future and what lays ahead for her, but she can’t imagine what it will bring.
“Traveling to see faraway friends and family would be great, but that seems uncertain with the way the world is right now. Perhaps a part-time job at a gardening center or bookstore, or volunteering to help those in need,” she said, adding that what comes next will evolve as she settles into a “different pace.”
“I do know that I look forward to discovering what is next,” she said. “I feel so lucky to have worked in a career I’ve loved, with so many outstanding people – literally hundreds of students and staff members over the years.”
If you’d like to leave a personal message for Lea Menkens, send her an email at lMenkens@maplerun.org or send a letter to SATEC at 169 South Main Street, St. Albans City, in care of Lea Menkens.
Editor’s Note: Kai Hemingway and Owen Biniecki wrote profiles of all of the retiring teachers from the Maple Run School District, and the Messenger has been publishing them over the last several weeks. See all the previous stories online at samessenger.com.