[IMAGE: Pacific Lutheran Scene] 
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Goodbye, Mrs. Glew
State's oldest teacher calls permanent recess

B Y   K A T I E  M O N S E N   ' 9 6

Gretchen Glew '40, '44, Washington state's oldest teacher, stands among the real wooden desks in her classroom on her last day of school. Glew retired in June after nearly 50 years of teaching.


The short, scuffed wooden chairs were stacked on their desks in the third-grade classroom of Gretchen Glew '40, '44. Art projects had been taken home, lockers cleaned out. Most of the children, on their way to fourth grade, were gone. Summer vacation had come to Edison Elementary School in Tacoma.

For Glew, at age 78 the oldest teacher in Washington state, this was to be an extra-long vacation. On that last day of school in mid-June she retired, finishing nearly 50 years of teaching, almost all of it to third-graders.

Glew began teaching in 1940, just after her graduation from PLC. She had grown up in Tacoma, where her family owned a bakery in the south part of the city, and was a member of the last PLC class to graduate with a three-year certification in elementary education. She returned a couple years later to finish her bachelor's degree, a new state requirement at the time.

She taught her first two years east of the Cascade mountains, in the small town of Carlton, north of Chelan, along the Methow River. She returned to the coast and substituted at a few schools before the principal at Edison suggested she take a position there.

She made Edison her teaching home from that point on. And Edison was glad to have her. On the last day of school, other teachers, standing outside and waving goodbye to students, were only too eager to show visitors the way to Mrs. Glew's room, to try to give her the recognition they believe she deserves. Newspaper reporters and TV crews nearly wore grooves into the floorboards en route to her class to chronicle the last day of a local teaching treasure.

It seems the entire school was enamored with Glew. Every last teacher and student penned signatures and goodbye wishes on a giant card, presented to her on that last day.

One witness to the time Glew spent at Edison is the heavy oak desk she had since 1959. It moved with her from class to class, from main building to portables and back again. Glew donated the familiar piece of furniture to a friend across the hall. "She has a metal desk, one of those tinny-sounding things," Glew said. "I told her, 'You need a wood desk.'"

She also had the only classroom full of old wood desks and chairs, complete with scuffs and scratches from many years past, while all the other classes had plastic or metal furniture. "I just hung in with the woods," she said.

It's September and the desks are gone now, and even Glew's classroom itself. The century-old school building - the same one in which her mother attended school in 1892 - also retired in June, bowing to a shiny, new schoolhouse constructed a few yards away. The library in the new building is named after Glew.

Glew saw the move to the new school building as a good time for her to switch tasks. The building is going to be "quite a bit computered," she said, with student profiles online and daily bulletins sent out from the office on email. Although Glew has tried her hand at computers, she hasn't quite gotten the hang of them yet, she said.

Although Glew may be retired, she certainly hasn't finished her work with children. She now serves as a volunteer with students at Edison who need extra help in reading. Glew believes reading is critical to a child's understanding of the world. Reading helps students relate to everything, she said.

With such firm philosophy, Glew reached out to her students, devoting her time and energy to their success. Students from her classes earned more Student of the Month awards than from those of any other teacher.

Such devotion makes Glew unforgettable. "Just the other day I ran into a former student; he's 23 now," she said. "He recognized me, and then told me his name, and I recalled what he looked like when he was in third grade."

It's the simple act of running into former students, of seeing where what they learned has taken them, that is the greatest reward of teaching, Glew said.

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Source: Pacific Lutheran Scene, Fall 1997
Edited by: Linda Elliott, Summer Senior Editor (elliotlm@plu.edu)
Maintained by: Webmaster (webmaster@plu.edu).
Last Update: 12/09/97