It was 1973 when first-year teacher Linda Watt meticulously set up room 5A for her Lodi High School math students. Little did she know she'd still be teaching there 37 years later as she readied for retirement.
Just like the white birch tree outside her classroom window, she has seen countless students grow confident in learning algebra and calculus.
But she's seen a lot of changes during her nearly 40 years in education.
At the beginning of her career, there were no calculators.
Then came calculators that could add, subtract, multiply and divide, and those were replaced by scientific calculators that could do trigonometry functions, exponents and logarithms. Today's calculators can graph, do statistics and even factor polynomials, she said.
She started teaching on a traditional calendar before moving to an extended-day schedule, to a year-round calendar and ending on a modified traditional year.
Forty years ago the campus was smaller, but with the bulging student population in the late 1980s, there were over-crowded conditions, which led to an extended-day, and then to a year-round school calendar, she said.
"Now, because of the budget cuts, the student population will be taught by fewer teachers and raise the student-to-teacher ratio to 40.2 to 1."
When she started, it was 29 to 1.
A week before the last day of school, Watt has already cleaned out her five file cabinets and passed old textbooks and curriculum onto fellow math teacher and former student David Main. Her floor-to-ceiling cabinets were mostly emptied last school year when she first weighed retirement, but she didn't make the final decision until fall, just before her grandson was born.
The oldest thing that remains in her classroom is a painting by a former student. It's all that's left of the math projects she once required, but that ceased when benchmark exams took more of her teaching time.
"Time constraints have been more limited now because they want teachers to be doing the same chapters at the same time because of benchmarks," Watt said.
She's also seen school go from the hub of a student's life to a place just to show up. Today, students have things like Facebook, text messaging, cell phones and MySpace drawing their attention, she pointed out.
District teachers retiring in 2010Michael Abdallah
Source: Lodi Unified School District
"They have so many things pulling on them. But kids are still kids. They want to have rules, and most follow them."
In the past 15 years, she added, students don't complete their homework as often — a misstep so important in math since concepts build on one another.
During her tenure, however, she's been lucky not to be involved in any major issues. Fire alarms have been pulled, and in the 1980s, the school was evacuation for a false bomb scare. "It's a testimony to our administration, our staff to keeping a good learning environment."
Out of more than 1,350 teachers, there are fewer than 10 who have taught continuously in Lodi Unified School District since before 1973, according to Mike McKilligan, assistant superintendent of personnel.
But teachers usually move from one school to another, and even more rarely spend 37 years in the same classroom. When Watt shared her classroom with peers, it was always the other teacher who moved out.
She has been in classroom 5A longer than her parents' home or the one she raised a family in. Coincidentally, she remembers sitting in the same room as a freshman in 1965 taking geography.
Not only did Watt's son, James, attend Lodi High (and have his mother as a teacher his senior year), but her parents also attended the school. She graduated in 1969, only to start as a teacher four years later.
It was just by chance she began as a math teacher.
Watt originally wanted to be an orthodontist, so she double-majored in science and math. But when it came time to enroll in dental school, her husband had a steady job and they had a house. Watt didn't want to drastically change things, so she decided to become a teacher.
"When I interviewed, I just happened to get the job as a math teacher instead of biology."
Back then, the district's eighth-graders were tested for math placement. Today, that process starts in sixth grade. "That's where the bar has been raised," Watt said.
But she believes that bar should be high. "If you set it too low, they'll only go to that level. But there are some students being left behind," Watt added of government programs like No Child Left Behind.
Over the past four decades, teaching styles, too, have changed.
"I began teaching by using a traditional approach, then transitioned into an integrated, discovery-learning methodology in the later 1990s and have now transitioned back to the traditional approach to teaching (directed instruction) in the late 2000s."
For anyone thinking about becoming a teacher, Watt recommends talking to teachers, visiting classrooms and "going in with your eyes wide open."
When you stand before 160 kids a day, you have to be ready for anything, she said, adding that not only are there different types of students, but cultures, parents and district personnel.
"And although it appears you have a lot of time off during the year, it's not the highest-paying job, but rewarding," she said. In the end, Watt said it is with a bitter-sweet feeling she's retiring. She will miss the students, staff and actual job of teaching. "But I will not have to spend time on lesson plans and grading exams every weekend."
She is leaving behind close to 40 years of what she terms a "wonderful journey" to start the next chapter of her life. This includes traveling (the first trip is to Ashland, Ore.'s Shakespeare Festival and then to Sweden next fall), reading, gardening, golfing and spending time with family and friends — particularly her 6-month-old grandson, James Allen.
"It's been a good ride, and I can honestly say that I loved going to work every day," said Watt, a former teacher of the year. "It's good to go out when you're still positive."