It’s a career that is satisfying yet stressful, admirable yet complicated and both intellectually and emotionally demanding. It has highs and lows and successes and breakthroughs.
That career is teaching.
“Teaching is a very rewarding experience,” said Mike Roberts. “I really enjoyed being a role model.”
Mike and Barbara (Sprague) Roberts, ’80, both spent careers supporting and guiding hundreds of students. Yet while they stood alone in front of the classroom, they could count on support from each other at home.
“You need someone to listen to you,” Mike said. “Teachers bring their work home with them and it’s good to have a sounding board.”
The couple has been married for 36 years, almost all of which they were teaching, which brought unique challenges. Having someone who understands the intricacies of the profession can be helpful.
“Barb is stricter than I am. I definitely used some of her techniques,” Mike said. “We often learned from each other.”
Mike taught seventh-grade language arts in Norwalk Ohio, while Barb taught in the elementary school in Monroeville, Ohio. Working at different schools allowed them to share ideas across curriculums, especially when their schools took different paths.
Barb’s school received government funds to provide students with Chromebooks and to install smartboards in classrooms. The grants came from the school enrolling in the Race to the Top education initiative. Mike’s school did not enroll.
“When used properly, technology in the classroom is great,” said Barb. “But it can be relied on too much. You still need to be able to connect with the students.”
Mike came to Heidelberg knowing he wanted to be a teacher. He was an engaged athlete, joining the football, golf and track teams. He was also a member of the Excelsior Society.
“Heidelberg gave me a very good education,” he said. “I was able to build my knowledge and feel prepared for the classroom.”
Barb took a more non-traditional path. She spent two years at Mount Vernon Nazarene University before transferring to Heidelberg, where she graduated with a psychology degree. She spent several years as a social worker before getting her teacher certification and joining Mike as a teacher.
“Experience is the best teacher,” Barb said. “You learn something new every year.”
Continuing to learn and grow is necessary in the education system. With declining graduation rates and stagnant test scores, there is more pressure than ever before on teachers and schools. Unfortunately, many teachers are asked to do more for students with less and less resources.
“Teachers are professionals who take their jobs seriously,” Mike said. “We want to teach and believe in the course.”
Both Mike and Barb expressed growing frustration with the increasing testing pressure put on both students and teachers.
“This focus on test scores takes away our educational creativity,” said Barb. “Our hands are tied.”
School safety, testing and technology have dramatically changed the landscape of the classroom over 30 years. Both started teaching before computers entered classrooms and now programming and coding is being taught as young as the fourth grade.
But that didn’t stop them from sticking to time-tested techniques.
“One of my strengths as a teacher was reading aloud to the class. I tried to read with inflection and drama, doing voices and dialects when needed to enhance the story,” Mike said. “I've even had former students who went into teaching tell me they read aloud mainly due to me!”
His favorites were Holes, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Giver and stories from Paul Harvey.
With so much change over the years, what was the most important thing they learned?
“You need to be flexible and patient,” Mike said.
“It takes a couple of years to be a good teacher,” Barb said. “You need to be patient and understand that some things will get easier.”
Mike and Barb were able to support each other when things got tough, or when they had to play the role of nurse and counselor in addition to teacher.
“You might be the only stable person in a child’s life,” said Barb. “I once invited a student to stay with me after school because it was the only way he’d be able to get his homework done. I wanted to give him the option.”
“That’s the beauty of teaching,” she said. “You can make a difference in a child’s life.”
Mike said he often had to create lessons to help fight bullying, which included journaling.
“Writing about their feelings helped relieve some tension,” Mike said. “I wanted them to learn to solve problems.”
Mike retired in 2014 and Barb joined him the following year. While they both miss working with students, they have found plenty of ways to keep busy. Since retiring, they took a vacation, got involved in the community and spent more time on their hobbies. Mike still subs at the school, and they love getting to spend more time with their grandchildren.
While there were hurdles and frustrations, the couple still believes being a teacher is its own reward. And having someone to share the journey with makes it even better.
“You try to bond with the kids and show them the importance of what you’re teaching,” Mike said. “We understood what each other was going through. That’s something special.”