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Elder retires after 22 year long career 

Mary Ann Elder shows off her award for serving 17 years at Tuscola High School. Submitted photo.

By Dominik Stallings

Mary Ann Elder didn’t think she was going to work as a full-time paraprofessional when she received her associate’s degree in photography, or even when she became a mother.

Her passion for education and helping others lead her to become a paraprofessional. After 22 years of working in the field, 17 of which were spent at Tuscola, she’s decided to retire.

Elder worked as a substitute teacher to become more involved with the school and help where she could.

 After learning about what a teacher’s aide is, she started her full-time paraprofessional career in a Kindergarten classroom at J.L. Buford Elementary School in Mt. Vernon in 2000. Later she worked in another elementary school in Springfield in 2004. Not long after, she moved to Tuscola and started working at North Ward in 2005. 

“It was challenging and eye-opening,” said Elder.

At North Ward, she started working as a one-on-one aide and helped students with extra needs, specifically Bryant Price, for the first three years at North Ward. After working with Price, she started working with Connie Pinson from her 2nd-grade year all the way to her senior year at Tuscola High School.

“She was a joy to work with,” said Elder. “I worked closely with her mother to give Connie all the support she needs to succeed in the school environment.”

Elder said she still stays in contact with some of the kids she’s worked with. She goes to church with Pinson’s mother.

“She and Connie were joined at the hip,” said her husband, Darin Elder.

Some of her favorite memories were at each year’s Special Olympics. 

“It was a big deal for us every year. It was so fun to see them so excited,” said Elder.

She remembers when the entire high school showed up when the bus returned from the Special Olympics. They had a gauntlet where the kids got high-fives and hyped up the kids as they were coming back.

“The kids would wear their medals and it made them feel special and loved,” said Elder.

Elder remembered going to Chicago with Bryant Price. Elder said that he loves trains and was motivated to do school work in order to work on his trains. The train in Chicago brought him right to the Museum of Science and Industry, which was a highlight both for her and for Price.

Some of the best parts of her career were watching students succeed in a subject and learn something successfully.  

“I love those moments when the lightbulb goes on and the student understands what you are teaching them,” said Elder.

Working as a teacher’s aide meant she had to help students keep up with their education, but it was also important for her to make a personal connection.

“I do whatever I can to keep them motivated, but most importantly, to connect with them as a person,” said Elder.

In the last six years of working at the Tuscola School district, her job changed and she started working more in the high school with a larger number of students in regular education, instead of just one at a time in special education classes. Elder said it was a welcome change for her since she had worked with students one-on-one for so many years. 

With those many years of experience, she gave some advice to people just getting started in the field.

“My counsel would be to make sure the students know you care about them as a person first. Once they know you really care about them, they will be more receptive to learning,” said Elder.  “I would also encourage them to always teach from their hearts.”

Over the years, she’s found that some key qualities can make you a successful aide. Patience, treating everyone with respect, flexibility and communication between students and teachers. She also placed importance on staying faithful to your mission as an educator, even when it gets difficult.

“I feel that my work with so many wonderful people over the years has been much more than a job, but rather a calling from God to invest in others,” said Elder.

Now that she’s retired, she plans on spending more time with her husband in the ministry at church. Her husband, Darin Elder, is the pastor for the Eagle Mountain Assembly of God in Tuscola. She plans on helping with marriage counseling, pre-marital counseling, weddings and more. 

Elder is also in charge of the women’s ministries at church and helps organize potlucks, speakers for events and some pastoral visits. 

Of course, she plans on going on more vacations and camping trips with her husband as well. Now that she has more time, she also plans on spending more of it with her family and prioritizing them more.

“It’s an important mission,” said her husband Darin.

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