Lyn Biethan joined Hucrest Elementary School in 1988, the first year the Roseburg School District offered kindergarten. Biethan, 64, retired last week. She was the last of Roseburg’s first group of kindergarten teachers to leave the job.
Biethan said she has taught about 1,000 kindergarten children in her 26 years at Hucrest Elementary school.
“My first year’s class, those kids are now 31. They’re old enough to be having children of their own who might be in elementary school,” Biethan said.
Kindergarten has changed dramatically since Biethan began teaching. When kindergarten was new to the district, the main goal was to teach students, some of whom had never been to preschool, how to get along in a group.
“They’d never had the opportunity to raise their hands, take turns, to learn that we all can’t walk out the door at the same time,” Biethan said. “My job was to acclimate them to all these ideas.”
For some of those students, kindergarten also provided an introduction to the letters of the alphabet. Now, students are expected to learn much more.
“What our kindergarten is now is more like what first grade used to be,” Biethan said.
Biethan said she was drawn to work with young children and never had a desire to teach any other grade level. Kindergartners are creative, curious and eager to learn, she said.
“It’s a great age,” she said. “It’s been an honor and a privilege for me to teach them.”
Biethan said her favorite teaching experience was the annual teddy bear picnic. At the end of the first week each year, she asked her students to bring teddy bears to class. After a morning filled with teddy bear lessons, such as arranging the animals by size, the children left the bears behind and went out for recess. When they returned, the bears would be gone. A bear hunt ensued, in which the class visited other classrooms and the library, asking teachers and students along the way if they had seen their bears.
While the students searched for their bears, they were also learning about the school. The hunt ended outside the front doors, where the bears would be found having a picnic.
“At the end of the year when you ask for their favorite memories, many of them will probably say the teddy bear picnic,” Biethan said.
Biethan also enjoyed having leprechauns visit her classroom each March. When the children were out of class, she pulled out and arranged green items and then said leprechauns had visited. The children built traps for the leprechauns and brought them to class. None was ever caught.
Biethan said she always loved art and reading. Her favorite books for young children are those written and illustrated by Eric Carle, including “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See.”
Biethan said she was fortunate to work at Hucrest because she lives in the district and her children attended school there.
Her children are now grown and scattered across the country. She plans to visit them and her parents more often in retirement.
Hucrest Principal Doug Freeman said Biethan’s departure marks the closing of a chapter in Roseburg’s book of education. She is the last of the district’s first kindergarten teachers and helped implement a “whole child” approach to learning in which social development and creative work got equal time with learning basics. She leaves at a time when the district is in transition to a common core approach with more reading, math and science-focused kindergarten education. The kindergarten day also will soon be longer. The district will switch from half-day to full-day kindergarten in the 2015-16 school year.
Freeman said Biethan will be hard to replace.
“She’s an icon for Hucrest,” he said. “She has definitely been an asset for us. We’ll miss her, and she’s going to miss us.”
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.