Search form

Iowa Teacher Spends 56 Years in Kindergarten

Share School Issues CenterFor 56 years, Drucilla Straub has been hugging and encouraging Des Moines (Iowa) kindergarten students. Many still keep in touch with her, and two told Education World how much they had enjoyed her class. The Des Moines Board of Education recently honored Straub.

Drucilla Straub's teaching career spans the era of the Cleavers to the Simpson family.

Although much has changed since she first started teaching kindergarten in Des Moines, Iowa, 56 years ago, Straub, 75, said that today's five- and six-year-olds have many of the same concerns youngsters did half a century ago.

"Children are basically the same, then and now," Straub told Education World. "They worry about who will pick them up and whether that person will be on time. There are still some who cry when their mothers leave. They want to be noticed; They want to feel secure and loved. That's what they wanted in 1945, and that's what they want now."

Another thing that has not changed is Straub's approach to teaching -- she said she still believes in letting students know she is there to support them and supplies plenty of hugs and encouraging words. "I just tell them I want to be their very best friend," she said.

Straub's endurance also impresses former students, such as Des Moines resident Nicholas Van Patten, 37, who remains in contact with his former teacher. "She went through the paces of a generation, starting with the June Cleaver era, and saw many changes," Van Patten told Education World. "And she kept her sanity."

Even after all these years, Straub has no immediate plans to retire from her position teaching all-day kindergarten at Jefferson Elementary School. "I always say that I will know when I get up one morning," she said when asked about a decision to retire. Devotion to children has kept her in the classroom. "I just love children," Straub said. "You never know with five- or six-year-olds whether you will scoop them off the floor or pull them off a wall. Not to start my day with a hug from a five- or six-year-old would be kind of a letdown."


At a December meeting, the Des Moines Board of Education recognized Straub's commitment to teaching and dedication to her students. She currently holds the record for the teacher with the greatest number of years in the school system, Klark Jessen, a school district spokesman, told Education World.

"Her tenure is extraordinary, without a doubt," Jessen said. "She keeps in touch with many students."

High school students dedicated their performance of a play based on the book Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum, to Straub in early December. "It was quite an honor," Straub said of the recognition.

John Cavanagh, who recently became principal of Jefferson School, said that Straub's dedication and demeanor help make her an effective teacher. "She is a wonderfully kind person who absolutely loves children," Cavanagh told Education World.

Another administrator, Jerry Clutts, who was Jefferson's principal for 12 years, said that Straub gets to know not only her students but also their parents. She also continually learns new things herself.

"She certainly has brought a ton of experience to her job," Clutts said. "She has a lot of contact with families. She also continues to stay current by taking classes on methods and technology."


Straub began teaching in 1945, at age 19, after earning a two-year certificate from the University of Northern Iowa. At the time, Iowa allowed classroom teachers to have two-year degrees. Over the years, though, Straub earned a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, and several credits beyond the master's level.

Straub has spent almost her entire career teaching kindergarten, although she also worked as a resource room teacher for third, fourth, and fifth graders.

Among the biggest influences on children since she has been teaching, Straub says, have been television and computers, both of which are too often used just to entertain children.

"Those media are wonderful for children -- if they are used properly," Straub said. "The children are not as interested in the computers in my classroom when they learn there are no games. Children are more entertained now than they were in the 40s and 50s."

Often parents use computers the way they used television in the past -- as baby-sitters. "I don't think they [parents] are aware [computer use] is serving as a mentor to children," said Straub. "Some computer programs require adults to sit with them, but most parents want something children can handle on their own."

Straub often hears students talk about computer games they have at home, many of which involve shooting and violence, which concerns her. "It doesn't seem real to them," Straub said of computer-game violence.


Straub says she cannot walk through the school halls without being hugged by children. Although many teachers now are cautious about hugging students, Straub says, she continues to do it and sees the positive impact it has on students. "I know a lot of teachers now don't want to hug because they are afraid of lawsuits," she added.

In one case, Straub met a little girl who was to be in her class during a home visit. The girl said, "Don't touch me." The child entered Straub's class and saw her interacting with other students. "Eventually, I could not get her off my skin," Straub said.

Straub's devotion to her students continues after they leave her class. She enjoys hearing about their accomplishments. "When they make the honor roll at middle or high school, I'm thrilled," Straub said. She also has had her share of children of former students in her class.

Van Patten, the former student who was in Straub's class from September 1968 to June 1969, called her "A milestone in my life. I always went to her with a lot of issues. She was always someone I could talk to. She has a good ear."

Children love Straub because she tries to work with them individually, Van Patten says. If she senses problems, she talks with the parents.

Susan Woody, 38, a classmate of Van Patten's, says Straub had a way of soothing children's fears and making school seem like fun. "She is such a sweet and comforting lady, who didn't make school scary," said Woody. "It was always a comforting and welcoming place, and for me, that's what kindergarten is all about -- socialization, learning rules, and making school a place you want to go."


Although Straub devotes a great deal of time to her students and their families, she finds time for other interests as well. She is active in her church, where she often sees students, former students, and their parents. She also volunteers at the Iowa Methodist Hospital and works part-time as a receptionist for a Weight Watchers center. She serves on the board of directors of the teachers' credit union and enjoys traveling with her daughter. "I stay so busy, I don't know what I would do when I retire -- I do so much now," she said.

"She's a ball of fire," Susan Woody added.

As for Straub, she says that her job has helped her remain active and involved in the community. "I just feel I have a full life, and it's because of these children that I have stayed so young."

Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

Related Articles from Education World

Please check out our featured theme this week:


You Found the Clue! Daily Life in Ancient Civilizations
In ancient times, people looked up at the sky and were amazed and awed at the stars they saw in the sky (just as we are today!) What did the ancient Egyptians call the star grouping that we call the Big Dipper?