Saturday, July 3, 2010

Retiring Natick teachers reflect on their illustrious careers

The close of the school year in Natick marked the end of long, illustrious careers for numerous teachers and staff members who have seen scores of students pass through their classrooms and hallways.

Your Town Natick asked a few of them to reflect on their experiences in Natick and speculate about their futures.

Marie Caradonna, English and Humanities teacher at Natick High School for 35 years

As a Natick High teacher for 35 years, Marie Caradonna often had students multiple times throughout their high school education since she taught freshman, sophomores, and seniors.

Caradonna grew up in Sherborn and studied English at Framingham State College. Though she earned a masters in guidance and counseling from Boston College, she chose to stay in the classroom because of the greater opportunities to bond with students.

“I get to know my students for four years and see how much they've matured,” she said. “It's a satisfying relationship.”

In addition to teaching English and Humanities, she was involved with the teachers’ union and worked with the Title IX committee crafting anti-sexual harassment policies for staff and students. She was co-chair of the school’s gay/straight alliance for the alliance’s entire 17 years of existence.

“I love teaching students,” said Caradonna. “They count far more than the subject matter. How can I engage students? How can I teach them to think for themselves? How can I help them overcome whatever obstacles they face? How can I be an appropriate role model for them? That's what is important about my job.”

She is still in touch with many of her students, some of whom are now in their 40s. Numerous memories from her teaching career stand out, some painful.

“How do I help a class of students deal with their science teacher's death? How do I break the news of 9/11 to students when I have little information myself?,” said Caradonna of the painful events. “And some of the memories are wonderful, and wonderfully simple: helping a student overcome a personal obstacle, having a student tell me, ‘I get it!,’ and getting a hug from a student on graduation day.”

Caradonna said she is leaving while she still loves her job.

“I never counted the days I had left,” she said. “I am sure I will miss teaching in unexpected ways for quite a while, so I intend on finding different venues to continue what I think is a most important job.”

Elizabeth Grady, physical education at Natick High School for 35 years.

Elizabeth Grady said she knew she wanted to be a phys ed teacher and coach by the time she was 12. The Natick native graduated from the Natick High in 1971 and taught at the school for 35 years until her retirement last week.

“I‘ve always loved sports and working with young people,” said Grady, who earned a bachelors in physical education from Springfield College in 1975 and a masters in education from Cambridge College in 1999. “You get to see students learn and grow. It has been very rewarding. You’re not just teaching physical education, you are teaching life through physical education.”

Grady especially enjoys “adventure” physical education like rope courses and rock climbing. She’s taken students on field trips to Thompson Island Outward Bound.

She has also coached numerous sports over the years including field hockey, lacrosse, volleyball, basketball, tennis, and ice hockey. She was co-adviser for the high school's gay/straight alliance for the past 14 years.

“I feel really good about retiring,” said Grady. “I have had a blast for 35 years but now I’m ready. Maybe I’ll get a little job or volunteer. I know I’ll be out and about having new adventures and beginning a new chapter in my life.”

She said she’ll miss her students, co-workers, and department director, as well as principal John Hughes and athletic director Tom Lamb, both of whom are retiring.

“I have wonderful memories especially coaching the field hockey and lacrosse athletes,” said Grady. “I would do it all over again in a minute.”

Suzan Stamas, second grade teacher at Memorial Elementary School for 17 years

Suzan Stamas said her favorite subject is math.

“These years in Natick have been so rewarding,” said Stamas. “I think teaching will be a hard habit to break. I am always planning lessons and collecting things for my students. Like any habit, I’ll need to find a substitute.”

A New York native, Stamas went to Hunter College for her undergraduate education before enrolling in graduate studies at Columbia University.

She has numerous highlights from her career including seeing her students’ work in the Boston Globe’s Fun Pages and Student NewsLine; her students interviewing Larry Lucchino, Jerry Remy, children's book author Mordicai Gerstein, and "Martha Speaks" author Susan Meddaugh.

One year, her students studied the continents to find out where is the coldest place on earth. A scientist from Natick Soldier Systems Center came and taught them about appropriate clothing, and in response, the students created nosewarmers.

Stamas asked her students to come up with a list of activity suggestions for her retirement. The students suggested “everything from working at the Franklin Park Zoo to writing a book about them,” she said.

She still isn’t sure what the future holds.

“I think I’ll spend some time thinking. I do my best thinking while I work in my garden,” said Stamas. “I need to find something to do that’s exciting, meaningful, fun and brings me into contact with great people. Teaching has been all that and more.”

Megan McKee can be reached at

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