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Tuscola celebrates Mary Willams for her 25 years

Photo: Tracy Hornaday
Special education teacher Mary Williams was honored in COVID-19 fashion, with a car parade and flowers celebrating her retirement after 25 years at the school.

By Kendra Hennis 
For twenty-five years Mary Williams has served as the Special Education teacher at East Prairie Middle School in Tuscola. The school celebrated Mrs. Williams in a Facebook post, saying, “We would like to congratulate Mrs. Mary Williams, who officially retired this week after 25 years of dedication to students with special needs at East Prairie Middle School.  Her caring, loving mannerisms always made her students feel respected and valued.  They trusted Mrs. Williams and knew she would always be there to help them and advocate for them.  Her dedication went beyond the classroom.  She played an integral role on the Can Do for Classrooms Committee, and along with hard-working community members, raised almost $80,000 for classroom resources.  For many teachers,  Mrs. Williams was a sounding board to bounce ideas off of and to help solve any problems that would arise during the daily stresses of teaching.  She was always happy and willing to stop what she was doing if she was needed in any way.  Mrs. Williams was the building cheerleader who always knew how to make you laugh and will be missed by all.  Congratulations, and we hope you enjoy the next chapter!”

Williams got her start in teaching by attending Truman State University, then named Northeast Missouri University, earning her Bachelor’s in special education. She then moved to Colorado where she met her husband, Jim, and took classes at the University of Northern Colorado where she earned her Master’s in special education. Williams began to teach third grade at a Catholic school in Greeley, Colorado. She and her husband then decided to start a family. He worked for Panhandle Eastern at the time and as a result, the family moved a lot. In 1988, the two ended up in Tuscola with children Jeassalee, Elijah, and Hannah. 

Williams said as long as she can remember she loved to read and play school. She said, “I would give spelling tests to my friends when they were at my house. When I started college the implementation of Public Law 94-142 had just been in effect. This new law provided rights for a free and appropriate education for students with special needs. I knew immediately that I wanted to pursue a special education degree.” 

She said it was hard to pinpoint a favorite part of her job, because there are so many! Williams said, “having a relationship of trust and support with my students and their parents is high on the list. Nothing beats the satisfaction of seeing a student, who has struggled with a concept, understand and comprehend the elusive skill. I was also blessed to work with many talented and kind teachers, staff, and administrators. Also, a special shout out to the lunch bunch. There were times I was laughing so hard that I had tears coming down my face. Remember, what goes on in the teachers’ lounge stays in the teachers’ lounge.” 

Williams said that while she was on schedule, her days were anything but typical. Saying, “When you are a middle school teacher, you are dealing with the roller coaster of emotions and moodiness of students at this stage in their lives. You have to be fluid in order to assist any students who are having a bad day.”

The advancement in technology were some of the biggest changes during Williams’ career. She said “When I first started teaching at East Prairie, the computers were the size of a tank and you had to use floppy disks. Also, the delivery services for students with special needs have transformed into co-teaching in the general education classroom. Instead of “pulling” students out of the general education classrooms and providing instruction in a special education room the specialized teacher goes into the general education classroom to provide support, make modifications, and implement any needed adaptations.” 

The implementation of co-teaching is something that Williams says she is most proud of. She said, “Co-teaching helps reduce the stigma of special education as well as boosting the students’ self-confidence. The students are able to get instructions from the content teachers and remain with their peers. I witnessed fantastic teaching from the East Prairie teachers. Tuscola really does have some of the best educators!” 

Williams is also very proud of her work with Can Do for Classrooms, saying, “Nine years ago our school district, as well as many others, were experiencing financial hardship. A group of committed community members, Tammy Bennett, Elizabeth Reed, Jenifer Reifsteck, and Khristi Boyer met to discuss how they could help. After a lot of discussion and several margaritas, they created Can Do for Classrooms. The mission was to help supplement and enhance classroom curriculum. A nighttime walk at TCHS, several 5K’s, and two color runs were organized. With the outstanding support from the teachers and community, almost $80,000 was raised for Smartboards, novel sets, manipulatives, and many other materials.”

She said the main thing she won’t miss about the job is the paperwork. She said, “If you have a job you love, which I did, retirement comes quick, but the memories last forever.” Williams advises those hoping to go into teaching that, “If you are looking for a financially lucrative career then teaching is not for you. If you are wanting a rewarding, challenging, and an impactful profession on the youth in America then teaching is the career for you. The rewards are priceless.”

To her students, Williams said, “From the bottom of my heart I thank you for being the best students ever! I cherish all the laughs and sometimes tears that we shared.”

With all of her new free time, Williams plans to travel with her husband, Jim. She also plans on getting involved with the Retired Teachers Club, saying “ once a teacher, always a teacher.”

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