In the coming years when looking back on four decades as a teacher, Cindy Graff hopes to be able to believe that she made a difference in someone’s life.
Through emails and letters she’s received from long-ago students, it appears to be a pretty safe bet that Graff did have a significant influence on many who have studied in her classrooms.
“It would be a hope that I’ve had a positive impact on how people are in the world — even if they don’t remember their Spanish, that they become good citizens and people who value learning, for the sake of learning — people who have had the courage to follow their dreams and just all of those things where you think back and you hope your footprint on the Earth will be a positive one,” said Graff, who is retiring from teaching after 40 years, the last 35 at Philomath High School. “I can’t think of any better blessing than that for a life’s work.”
Graff, 62, has been thinking about leaving the profession for a while, but not because she wants to leave teaching.
“I feel like I’m at the top of my game. I still love it but I want to be able to leave my career before it gets to be where I wished I had left earlier,” she said. “I think it would be sad if I waited too long, if I were not effective because I love it and I care so much about it and I would never want to lose my edge.”
Graff’s journey into teaching began in Annville, Pennsylvania, at Lebanon Valley College, located about 8 miles west of Hershey where “you smelled chocolate in the air because we were downwind” and 30 miles from Three Mile Island “when they had the nuclear accident.”
Graff joined Philomath Schools in 1984. Her career started in 1979 in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.
“I worked there for my first couple of years of teaching until my husband decided he wanted to go to graduate school at a forestry school,” Graff said. “So he applied to five different schools and decided that we would have a western adventure and go out to Oregon State.”
The couple never left with her husband eventually getting his master’s and doctorate degrees and then children coming along. For those first two years, Graff taught in Corvallis covering for teachers on long-term leaves — those not working for months at a time because of things like surgery recovery or having a baby.
But the original plan had been to head back East after her husband finished graduate school.
“At that time, when this job (at Philomath) came available, I wasn’t even going to apply for it,” Graff said. “One of the teachers I was doing long-term leave subbing for backed me into a corner in the library at Cheldelin (in Corvallis) and said ‘there’s a retirement opening at Philomath High School and you’re applying for that job.’”
Graff responded that they planned to only stay in the area for another year or two.
“She said, ‘if you go back East, then you’ll be much more marketable if you have middle school and high school experience so you’re applying for that job,’” recalled Graff, whose first five years had been in middle school classrooms.
So, Graff, who has a master’s in English, was hired at Philomath High School as the sophomore English teacher. But within her first few years on campus, an overflow in the Spanish section occurred. School administrators discovered that Graff was bilingual and as a result, she pursued a teaching certificate in Spanish by passing the National Teacher’s Exam.
“I would teach whatever English class or whatever Spanish class they needed at the level they had the most enrollment,” Graff explained. “So for most of my career, I’ve taught both subjects at the same time. It’s only the last few years that I’ve been the only Spanish teacher.”
Graff doesn’t have any specific plans for retirement life, although she hopes to see family in New Jersey and Pennsylvania on a more regular basis. She’d also like to spend more time on hobbies.
“I quilt and I paint and I write, and the idea of being able to do those things all through the year and not just in the summertime, is very appealing,” she said.