Retiring Helena teacher reflects on 40 years

Posted at 4:18 PM, May 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 14:56:46-04

HELENA- Every spring, the Helena School District celebrates its retiring teachers and staff as the school year winds down.

Among this year’s honorees: a Four Georgians kindergarten teacher who has been at the front of the classroom for 42 years.

Robyn Nickel says her desire to teach started in 2nd grade when she was injured on the playground and her teacher found a creative way to cool the bump on her head: the teacher taped a silver dollar to the wound. It was the coldest thing the teacher could find.

“After that, I wanted to be a teacher just like her. She was so wonderful, she made everybody love learning.”

Since then, Mrs. Nickel has spent 42 years doing just that, 36 of those years teaching kindergarten at Four Georgians.

“It’s a hard grade, they’re very active. At the beginning of the year, they can only sit 10 minutes, at the most, so you’re really, really moving all the time. But they’re so excited.”

Mrs. Nickel says over the course of those years, the children themselves haven’t changed at all. But the curriculum – and what those kids are doing while in kindergarten – certainly has.

She says, “Writing. The writing these children are doing now is mind-boggling. You wouldn’t believe. I had a little girl come up and show me a book she’s writing… in kindergarten.”

And while they are learning much more, sooner – she says parents who worry something isn’t quite clicking for their little one – fear not.

“They’ll say ‘my kid’s not reading very much yet.’ I say, they will. Wait for that light bulb to go off in their little brain and you’re going to say wow look at them read!”

Mrs. Nickel says read with your little ones, as much as you can. And let them read to you, too.

And don’t forget to play – cards, dice, board games – she says play goes a long way, and so does time with mom or dad.

For teachers, she has one piece of advice. It’s something she wishes she would’ve done herself.

“Every day, write something down that happened, that was funny, comical, that hit your heart even. Write it down, put it in a notebook and years from now take it out and you’ll remember.”

No doubt the memories of 42 years, teaching hundreds and hundreds of Helena children, will remain strong for Mrs. Nickel.

She looks forward to spending more time with her new granddaughter but insists you will still see her in the classroom.

“I’ll tell you one thing I will be doing, I’ll be back with kids, I’ll be volunteering. That’s what I want, that’s what I will be doing.”

And continue to inspire future teachers, herself.

Thank you, Mrs. Nickel!