Joyce Sears remembers the first day she started teaching at Artondale Elementary. It was in fall 1967, and she wasn’t sure what to expect.
“It was overwhelming,” Sears said. “It’s amazing how much energy 29 students had that first day.”
It’s safe to say she’s learned a few things since then.
Sears taught first grade at Artondale for 46 years and decided to retire in June. While it’s rare for someone to stay in one spot for so long, Sears has roots in the community, and the decision was natural.
“My grandparents were immigrants from Norway, they settled on a farm here in Cromwell and raised 10 children,” Sears said. “My father took the farm over when his parents were elderly, and when my parents died, we took over the farm, so it still remains in the family.”
Sears has seen several changes in the Peninsula School District, and she’s seen a lot of people come and go.
“My mother taught here in Cromwell before the district had been consolidated, and I followed more or less in her footsteps and became a teacher,” Sears said. “I have known every superintendent that was ever a part of this district.”
Sears’ hallmark move was to save self-portraits that her students drew in her first-grade classes and present them to her students, framed, at their high school graduation.
“I started that the very first year I came to Artondale — the very first year I started teaching,” Sears said. “I had seen another mentor that had done something similar, and I thought, ‘What a wonderful way to let students know that their teachers don’t ever forget them, and they really are interested to see how they progress and grow, and how that fits into their life, and what they will do.’ ”
Sears’ students have been touched by the tradition, and they’ve expressed their gratitude for the impact she had on their development.
“I’ve gotten many compliments from former students,” Sears said. “From Tyler Buck, when he received his picture of himself, he said, ‘You’re the only teacher that has made a significant difference in my life.’ ”
Sears said she believes education is vital to the development of students and the moral fiber of society.
“To me, there’s no greater need today than to free young children’s minds from confinement of ignorance and prejudice,” Sears said. “I just feel that they need to have lifelong habits of study, reflection and learning. And that all encompasses the need for a powerful staff that can see the bigger picture.”
Although Sears will no longer be teaching, she will be present in the community.
“I will still be very involved,” she said. “I’m so proud of the Boys & Girls Club, the Y, Harbor History Museum, Donkey Creek — it’s extremely important that, somehow or other, I can be involved in some of the community activities that they offer.”