Judy Halstead presented George Washington Elementary a portrait of the school's namesake Wednesday. Halstead is retiring after nine years as a reading teacher at the school.
"Teaching has been so rewarding for me," she said in an interview Wednesday. "The most important gift I've received has been the relationships with my students, watching their efforts and success, and working with many people I respect."
The gift was a surprise. She presented it at a staff meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Halstead found the portrait while antique shopping one weekend in Lodi about three months ago. She thought it would be the perfect gift for the school that has never had a portrait of the president it was named after.
Halstead has taught reading to first graders at George Washington Elementary for nine years. She teaches students in small groups, and individually, as part of the federally funded Reading Recovery Program.
It is the job of teachers like Halstead to ensure that struggling students learn to read at the average or above-average level of their class.
The kindergarten and first-grade curriculums have increased in difficulty over the years, Halstead said. By the end of first grade, students must be good basic readers and have developed some fundamental techniques for teaching themselves.
Halstead and another instructor, Penny Lee, make up the program at George Washington.
"Many of them can only draw their names" at the beginning, Halstead said.
Some students have to read a letter, word or phrase out loud before grasping its meaning. Others need to reconstruct the words and sentences for themselves. Children construct words with colored magnet letters on a board or by writing.
The alphabet, conjunctions, apostrophes, commas and basic grammar can be new and daunting to young learners, Halstead said.
It's the sensitive job of teachers to walk students through these early difficulties, she said.
Halstead began teaching in Lodi in 1981. Since then, she has taught the second, third, fourth and fifth grades. She taught at Davis, LeRoy Nichols and Lakewood elementary schools before she began at George Washington.
Halstead grew up in Lodi.
"I am a product of Lodi schools," she said.
She was editor of her high school newspaper and majored in English literature at the University of California, Davis.
She graduated in 1962 and moved to San Francisco. She had wanted to live in the city ever since first driving across the Bay Bridge at age 10 with her father.
"In another life, I will come back as a journalist for NPR," she joked, referring to National Public Radio.
Halstead plans to remain active in her retirement. She would like to eventually work with children again and perhaps travel.
Halstead has already traveled widely. She has been to Kazakhstan, part of the former Soviet Union, Mongolia, China and the United Kingdom.
Her eldest son, John, teaches English as a foreign language. She has visited him in each of the different countries he has taught.
Halstead's last day is June 20.
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