She started out in the business world, as a stenographer at Stifel
Nicolaus, an investment and brokerage firm. In a short time she felt
it was time to go back to school and pursue other interests, mainly
her drive to teach. She attended Thornton Junior College, now South
Suburban College, and continued at Illinois State University with a
major in elementary education. Her first teaching position was at
Clinton Junior High, teaching science to sixth-graders.
first day I wondered if I was doing the right thing," Sharon
remembers, "because junior high is a different place. It has its own
culture, and there are unique issues not seen in other grade
But she stayed and grew accustomed to the strangeness of that
particular age group. It was three years before she left to marry
and start a family. And it was the mid-'80s before she decided to
return to the classroom.
A friend told her about an opening for a special education
teacher at the grade school in Mount Pulaski. At the time, state
funding was available for schools that would develop "reading
improvement" programs, which included extra reading projects. She
was with the program part time and was a substitute when needed.
"We did some fun stuff," Mrs. Cunningham said. "We found creative
ways of encouraging students to read."
In 1993, she was hired as the Title I reading teacher at Elkhart
Grade School and Zion Lutheran in Mount Pulaski. She simultaneously
worked with Mrs. Searby in the Reading Recovery program, focusing on
first-graders who were beginning readers.
Mrs. Cunningham had returned to school, and in 1996 she received
her master's degree in reading. It was an important month for her
"I graduated from ISU with my master's degree; my oldest
daughter, LeeAnn (Price), graduated from Eastern Illinois
University; and my son graduated from Warrensburg-Latham High
School," she explained.
When a third-grade teacher retired at Mount Pulaski Elementary
School, Mrs. Cunningham took her position. She became involved with
the Technology Committee, and Accelerated Reader, where she enjoyed
creating incentives for students to encourage them to reach their
reading goals. She volunteered for other activities when they needed
"You can participate in extra activities and volunteer to help,
but you can only stretch yourself so far," she said. "You need some
downtime. Teachers have families, too.
"Overall, though, the time has gone so fast. It is amazing how
long I've been involved with education and teaching," she commented.
"I can remember students' names from years ago. I hear from them and
see them around. It takes some time to really understand students as
the school year moves along, but you see their soft sides, what
makes them sad and how they are on the inside. You don't forget
those things very easily."
She commented on her experiences in the classroom: "With subjects
like math, you can see the confusion in students' eyes when they are
trying to understand, and then the look changes as the concepts and
reasoning begin to make sense.
"You never know what is going to happen during the day. Sometimes
it is the smallest thing that makes them react and become excited.
You have to be flexible and just go with it!"
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As the idea of being retired becomes reality, Sharon knows some
things will not feel the same.
"Sundays will have a different meaning because I have found
myself gearing up for the week as Sunday progresses," she said. "Now
I'll have to think about something else. But I'll miss the routine.
"It is a big responsibility to have another person's child all
day. You have to stick up for them and make them feel safe. I
believe I have done that for my students and hope they remember the
good things we did here."
Her third-grade class wrote letters to the second-graders,
telling them what it is like to be in third grade. She knows the
older students enjoyed sharing their ideas, and they will help the
second-graders any way they can.
"This is the ace of schools," she said, "because it's like a
comfortable shoe. It feels good to be here. I feel fortunate to have
been a part of this district and this school building's teaching
staff. I wish them all well."
It won't be too hard to stay busy or to be involved. Sharon
belongs to a book club in Clinton, plays tennis, does water
aerobics, walks for exercise and plans to volunteer. And, yes, she
will substitute after she has time to do other things.
She and her husband have three children. LeeAnn teaches at
Eastern Illinois University and is the athletic coordinator; Rebecca
(Christian) lives in Decatur and performs ultrasounds at a medical
facility; and Rebecca's twin, Steven, works in finance at State Farm
in Bloomington. There are eight grandchildren now that Steven and
his wife had twins, a boy and a girl, in March.
Sharon and her husband have planned a trip to Disney World for
November. Otherwise, she plans to pick what she wants to do a day at
a time. Three of the grandchildren are scheduled to stay at Grandma
and Grandpa's house in July. There will not be a dull moment this
summer. But now she can rest when school starts in the fall.
[By MARLA BLAIR]
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