Central School won’t be the same next year. Claudia Murdock and Gail Teune, two of the longest serving teachers in Riverside Elementary School District 96, are retiring this month.
Friday, the last day of school will be emotional for both of them.
“It’s very overwhelming, because I really am going to miss the kids,” said Murdock, who teaches first grade at Central.
Murdock is the longest serving teacher in District 96, having begun her career in District 96 38 years ago, during the 1976-77 school year. Teune, a Riverside resident, has taught at Central School for 34 years.
“They’re both amazing teachers, student-centered, and really make connections with the kids that they work with,” said Central School Principal Pete Gatz.
Former Central School Principal Janice Limperis agreed with Gatz’s assessment, calling them model teachers who go beyond what’s expected.
“Both of them … put in extra hours developing curriculum, being sure things were interesting for the kids and the kids were actively involved,” Limperis said. “Great stuff came out of their classrooms.”
Parents also rave about Murdock and Teune. This year Jennie Hepker Royer has a first-grader in Murdock’s class and a fourth-grader in Teune’s class.
“Mrs. Murdock connects to 7-year olds like peanut butter to chocolate — they are just a great match,” Royer said in an email. “My current fourth-grader has Mrs. Teune, who quietly demands excellence and finds a way to help these fourth-graders transition from little kids to responsible and accountable students receiving letter grades for the first time.”
Murdock started in District 96 as a part-time supplemental teacher for a large second-grade class at Blythe Park School. After a year of staying with the big class to help out in third grade, she began teaching kindergarten at Blythe Park and Ames School. She taught kindergarten for 17 years and has taught first grade at Central since 2000.
“She has a great personality and she was destined in her career to be a primary teacher,” Gatz said. “She makes great connections with the kids that she works with and treats them as if they are her own.”
Murdock calls her students her dreamboats and has other pet names for students.
“She was just amazing and wonderful and nurturing, and we were very fortunate to have her before she left,” said District 96 school board member Shari Klyber, whose daughter was in Murdock’s first-grade class three years ago.
Both sons of school board member Lynda Murphy had Murdock for first grade.
“She’s a really good mix of loving, yet slightly on the tough side,” Murphy said. “She definitely knows how to install a little discipline while still having fun. She’s always smiling; she’s the happiest person.”
Murphy’s son Owen was in Teune’s fourth-grade class last year and Murphy said that Teune was one of Owen’s favorite teachers.
“She was a fantastic teacher; she knows how to run a classroom,” Murphy said.
Murdock knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was an adolescent.
“I just knew I loved kids,” Murdock said. “I loved babysitting. I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher.
“It’s just so rewarding to watch them and watch them grow and when they have that moment when their face lights up.”
She loves teaching first-graders. But first grade is also tough, because kids enter at widely different levels of development.
“You’ve got kids that can read; you’ve got kids that don’t know the alphabet, so it’s really challenging,” Murdock said. “I find it’s the most difficult grade after teaching all of them, but it’s the most rewarding.”
Both Murdock and Teune have taught multiple generations of some families.
Cathy Daun and Dana Tomas were in Teune’s third-grade class at Central in 1981-82. Now the two lifelong friends each have children in Teune’s final fourth-grade class.
“Everyone has their favorite teacher and she was definitely mine,” Dana Tomas said recalling the energetic young teacher she had 33 years ago.
Two of Daun’s three daughters have had Teune for fourth grade.
“She was just a kind teacher and she just made learning fun,” Daun said. “She’s just kind and understanding. She’s just really great with kids.”
Teune is known for her love of science, and for many years she kept a turtle, named Wilma, in her classroom. Sometimes she’d let Wilma out of her cage to walk around the classroom, and sometimes Wilma would even crawl under cabinets. Sadly Wilma died this year.
Teune also uses crafts and games to liven up the school day. She likes to play a can-you-keep-a-secret game with a roll of tape. And she jokes about an imaginary student named Steve, who has his own empty desk.
Her experience at Central was a big help to Gatz when he came to Central two years ago.
“She’s my historical perspective, but also really helps me make the connection between the families in the community and the kids here,” Gatz said. “She’s been a huge asset for me.”
The retirements of Murdock and Teune will be keenly felt at Central School but for now the focus is on celebrating two long careers and the impact the two teachers have made on hundreds of lives.
“Teachers like that are very hard to replace and they’re very hard to come by when you’re looking for teachers,” Gatz said. “They’re amazing people. The kids are going to lose out by them retiring and their colleagues are going to lose out because they bring a lot to the table.”
Gail Teune declined to be interviewed for this story.