Sit down with Mike and Diane Crocker for a discussion about their teaching careers in the Philomath School District, and it becomes very clear that they both loved their respective journeys over the past 38 years.
Diane Crocker, 59, tears up when talking about her love for the thousands of students she’s taught.
“It’s hard for me. I’ve loved my job, I love the kids,” said Diane, who has been a mainstay in Philomath Middle School’s music department. “All 38 years, every single year, there’s been amazing students and families giving support ... yeah, I’ll never get tired of thinking about that.”
Mike Crocker, 62, taught high-schoolers for most of his career but has been working with Clemens Primary School kindergartners for the past five. Mike’s voice cracked a bit when talking about moving on.
“You know what? I love those kids,” Mike said. “Kindergartners are pretty challenging but overall, I’m 62 but I don’t feel like I’m 62; I feel like I’m just a kid when I’m around those little ones because I do everything with them. ... It’s been a really good situation for me personally over there.”
Mike and Diane Crocker, who married in 1985 after meeting as teachers in Philomath, are just two of the longtime educators that the school district is losing to retirement this year. From the middle school alone, retirements also include Terry Stephenson (32 years), Jackie Pendergrass (22 years) and Teresa Nielson (eight years).
Both Mike and Diane earned degrees from Oregon State University in 1981 and immediately went on the hunt for full-time employment. Mike had been a student teacher at Philomath and had a connection but he finished runner-up for a physical education job.
“Three weeks after school started, the principal called to see if I still wanted a job because they had some social studies classes there that were just too big,” Mike remembers.
His official hire date at the district was Sept. 21, 1981.
Diane’s hiring at Philomath came just days after she had her college diploma in hand.
“I graduated from Oregon State on a Sunday and then interviewed for Philomath on Monday,” Diane recalled. “I went the next day down to Yoncalla and they offered me a job on the spot and I said, ‘could I wait until I hear back from Philomath because it’s really close to Oregon State and I would like to kinda stay in the area, so let me get back to you.’”
But she didn’t have to wait long to find out where she was headed.
“Yoncalla called Philomath and that pushed it along and so I got a call from Philomath that I was hired,” said Diane, her official start date being Sept. 1, 1981.
Through the years, the Crockers taught beyond their primary subjects. Mike started at the middle school before heading over to the high school full-time in 1985. He taught social studies classes, which covered topics such as government civics and contemporary issues, for 28 years. U.S. history and P.E. were thrown in from time to time and he helped coach several sports programs through the years.
Diane had a fairly nerve-wracking start to her Philomath career in 1981-82.
“During that year, they fired at least four music teachers ... it was an amazing situation,” Diane said. “I was nervous that I was going to be next on the chopping block.”
Among those let go was the choir teacher. All of a sudden, Diane was asked to go meet with the choir and direct them through a trip to a festival in Newport. She even had to get a commercial license in quick order to be able to drive them over in a school van.
“I didn’t understand all what was happening and they went through several teachers,” Diane remembered. “It ended up being Mrs. (Sue) Funkhouser, who was a pastor’s wife that played for a church, and they hired her to come and finish the choir out.”
But it all worked out and Diane was soon locked into the middle school band teacher position for good.
“After they fired the last music teacher my first year, they said, ‘OK, we want one music teacher per building, which building would you like?” Diane remembers. “And I surprised myself and said middle school.”
Diane explained that while in college, she had wanted to pursue a career as a high school music teacher. “I just wanted that higher level of musicality and that challenge.”
But in that first year, which also included time at the high school, she fell in love with the middle-schoolers.
“They would laugh at my dumb jokes and they were a lot more fun to be around,” Diane said. “I love this age, not everybody does, and I understand that but kids — even with my own kids — it seems like they don’t make sense to me until they’re about 10. Then all of a sudden I can have a real conversation with them and they can rationalize things and we can discuss and I love that so much more.
“That was the right decision for me, absolutely, no question.”
Both retired from full-time teaching in 2014 but have continued to work for the school district for the past five years on annual part-time contracts.
“We retired at the end of November 2013 but we got board approval to finish out the school year,” Mike said, explaining that the timing was related to benefit reductions going on with the state pension fund. “The Class of 2014 was the final class.”
That was five years ago, which means the last of Mike’s five-year letters will be going out in the mail after this weekend’s graduation. In fact, they’re sitting in a plastic bag in the family room waiting to be sent.
“The last assignment for my senior class has been to write a letter to themselves,” Mike explained. “I don’t read them — they give them to me sealed — but I give them a few suggestions on things to address, such as your thoughts on your school experience all the way from elementary through high school and then what you think you’ll be doing in five years — college graduation, married, children, whatever.”
It’s been a popular piece of mail for the former students to receive and he’s gotten plenty of feedback through the years. He’s been sending them out since the Class of 1987.
As for the part-time gigs that the Crockers have been working since 2014-15, Diane has continued in her role with the middle school band program while Mike went to work with kindergartners, which is an interesting story.
“The summer after we finished in 2014, I was signed up to be a sub and the district office was there (CPS) at the time,” Mike said. “Dan Forbess, who was the superintendent, heard my voice and asked me to come into his office.”
After dismissing the thought that he could be in trouble because he had retired, Mike soon heard a proposal that he was not expecting.
“He said, ‘I’ve been going over the certifications of all of the retirees and you are certified for P.E. I need a P.E. teacher,’” Mike recalls Forbess telling him. “I started laughing because in my head, I’m going, ‘OK, I just spent 28 years having mostly seniors in my classes and now he’s asking me to go to kindergarten.'”
The rest was history.
So now, they look forward to getting on with other things in life. Their four children are grown and have moved on to their own successes. They have two grandchildren with a third on the way in August.
“This time around, I told him it’s time,” Diane said about a discussion with her husband on leaving their teaching jobs completely. “I want to do some traveling before I can’t. I’ve had too many friends that waited a little too long and it hasn’t worked out for them.”
And Diane admits she has a long list of adventures in her head. As a result, Diane and Mike will still be doing some substitute teaching for extra cash and to keep in touch with that part of their lives.
“I am ready to go do some other things but I have loved it and again, just being such a big part of this community knowing so many people through my job and the hundreds of students every year, it’s been pretty amazing,” Diane said.