WINCHESTER - Peggy Walker, a Winchester resident and English Language Arts teacher who spent the past 19 years teaching at McCall Middle School, will be retiring in September. Walker and her four siblings were born and brought up in Winchester and all five of them graduated from Winchester High School. Walker and her husband Greg brought their three children up in the home her grandparents purchased in the 1950s. She recalled that her grandparents lived on Lawson Road with their three sons and her great grandmother.
The most rewarding aspect of being an English teacher is making connections with the kids, Walker indicated.
She further explained that “when students encounter a challenge and can rise to the occasion, it can change their access to learning. Some students do this through their writing, some through group work, some through performance, and others through connections to characters in reading.”
She commented that her role as a teacher was to recognize which path would foster that child’s growth. She also mentioned people assume middle school is the hardest age to teach, but through literature, students were able to have mature, insightful discussions about privilege, identity, and social injustice which empowered her students to recognize that they have a voice.
Prior to Walker’s position as an English teacher, she worked as a substitute teacher with pre-school through high school aged students for a few years and couldn't decide which grade she liked best. Then a position opened up for an aide in Special Education and she enjoyed the opportunity. Later, when an English position opened up mid-year, Principal Vandy French allowed her to finish the year with those students. The year after, the school expanded to two and a half teams in grade 8, where she was offered a position.
During her career as an English teacher, she learned a lot from veteran teachers who were kind, supportive, diligent and conscientious. She noted that she was on the Silver Team with Jack Squeglia, Barbara Zack, Randy Rae Martin, and Brent Ruter. She further stated that Kenny Tully had always been a great resource for them and they “had a ball!” Those teachers supported Walker throughout her career by making it easy for her to ask for help. She mentioned that Principal French was an excellent resource and “quarterback” for the McCall team. Most of all, Judy Hession, Director of English, has offered wisdom, patience, a wealth of knowledge and a wicked sense of humor, stated Walker.
She added, "She is a true gem!"
It is hard for Walker to pinpoint her biggest accomplishment as a teacher because their curriculum fosters a great deal of critical thinking, but for some students, the lesson is simply that the teachers and staff care about them.
She indicated that “it is a gift when I hear from a former student, now in their 30’s, that they learned who they were because of our class. I hope that my class encouraged kids to read and write critically.”
The biggest challenge for Walker was that there were not enough hours in the day.
“Assessing student writing is very time consuming and is a great responsibility,” she noted. “Students often can recognize good writing but can struggle to produce it. This requires more practice, so there is more writing, more assessing, more feedback and less time to make dinner.”
She further mentioned that maintaining a healthy balance between work and family can be tricky for a teacher.
Walker is grateful for the Winchester community.
“The community of Winchester has always supported the schools and in return, they are recipients of devoted professionals who often put their students before their own children, who spend weekends grading or attending classes, and who genuinely care about their students. Thank you for supporting us and sharing your children with us! They are great kids who are a joy to teach.”
For a teacher that is just starting out, Walker has some advice. She disclosed that "although you will be assigned a mentor to guide you, you need to find your ‘work spouse' or the person you can go to when things go wrong because no day in school is without challenges."
For Walker, her custodian, Phil Doucette, has always been her partner in crime, DC chaperone sidekick, her rock, buddy, and handyman, but most of all, her friend.
She further noted that in the classroom, “Things break, people have meltdowns, they forget pencils, they are sick, they didn’t have time to eat breakfast, their dog really did eat their homework, they didn’t get invited to the birthday party, they lost the game, or they said something they didn’t really mean to a family member.”
Despite all of this Walker affirmed that you still have to teach.
“Teach them to be responsible, to say they are sorry and mean it, or ask for a pencil when they need it; just teach them you care no matter what and the rest will happen! Laugh every day with them because they are absolutely delightful! With any luck, they will love you right back!”