Carol Bennatti, Bill Case, and Sue Jellison
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Veteran Teachers Retire
Three teachers with a combined 64 years in GSA classrooms retired at the end of the school year. We’ll miss their experience, their wit, and their wisdom.
Science teacher Carol Bennatti spent 34 of her 35 years as a teacher in classrooms at GSA, long enough to have started to see grandchildren of former students walk through her door.
How has high school changed since you were a student? "Expectations of what high schools will be have changed a lot. High schools fill a lot of roles families used to fill. We are asked to do so much, and well, and in a limited time, and to provide nurturing for kids who haven’t had a good breakfast or are dealing with problems in the home. Those things have always been there, and it makes the job more important, but it’s also made it much harder."
Why did you become a teacher? "If you’d asked me in high school [about being a teacher], I would have laughed. I was voted shyest in my high school class, was bullied. I was a wildlife management major, and I started doing volunteer work in environmental education. I’d go to scout groups, schools, nursing homes, and I found I really liked working with high school kids, which amazed me. So, I thought, you know, let’s give it a whirl, and I got my master's in environmental ed, and said I’d give it five years, and 34 years later … ."
How has GSA changed? The addition of students from other countries has been “ a wonderful way to enrich classes,” she said, particularly for “kids that have never left the state of Maine.” When she teaches environmental science, she can ask students from some of those places about the environment where they’re from.
Is there a moment you remember most? "I’ve taught freshman since I came here, and they change so much, and when you have them again as juniors or seniors, it’s wonderful to see the growth they’ve made. Someone recently told me that their daughter went into environmental engineering because of me, and she had never seen herself as a science person, and that made my month, maybe my year. When I have students who go into environmental science, it makes my heart sing.”
What will you miss? "I’ll miss the people. I’ll miss the students, I’ll miss my colleagues. I’ll miss them all a lot."
What are your post-retirement plans? "I'm so excited to not have homework. I’m so excited to have evenings and weekends free. Fall is going to take on a whole new flavor."
Any advice for students? "Remember your roots, remember you always have family here whether they’re blood family or community members. Be kind. Take care of each other."
Science teacher Sue Jellison spent 19 of her 26 years as a teacher at GSA. She had just started to see the children of former students in her classroom.
Why did you become a teacher? “There was no way I was going to be a teacher,” she said, but when she lived with her family near Lake George in upstate New York, there were no opportunities for marine research, her passion. When her son was in third grade, one of the teachers in his class asked her to come in and talk about the coast of Maine. She had a lot of fun doing it, but “the hardest thing to teach them was the tide.” A friend who saw her presentation on an in-school television broadcast said she’d make a good teacher. Soon after, she decided to go to graduate school to be better prepared to teach in New York. That’s how she decided to become a teacher, but why does she like teaching? “I like showing kids things they otherwise wouldn’t see.”
Is there a moment you remember most? GSA is “one of the most accepting places,” she said. “When I first came here, I chaperoned a dance, and two guys” came as a couple. “Nobody said a word. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of that.”
How do you hope GSA will grow in the future? “It would be lovely to see new buildings.” As for science, she would love to see “a full semester of marine studies that utilizes what we have right here” and incorporates language education, mathematics, technology, and more. “It could attract students from all over."
What role has failure played in your life? “My biggest mistakes were my biggest learning experiences,” she said. “I learned a lot about me” in dealing with these challenges.
What will you miss? “Bella [her dog] will miss coming to see all her friends. I will miss the kids and my colleagues, … but I won’t miss the homework and all the grading.”
What are your post-retirement plans? “I love working with wood,” she said. “I have a little shop and built a screen door from scratch with old pieces of wood, and [daughter] Heather and I built a screened-in porch, and I just want to go out there and read, work in the garden. Once my hip is okay, I want to ride my horses.”
Any advice for students? "Be true to yourself. Listen to your gut and be true to what it tells you. If it’s not right, and you fall on your face, pick yourself up, figure out how to fix it, and move on. And if you make a mistake, admit it. Apologize and then move on."
Social studies teacher Bill Case spent 11 years teaching at GSA after a full teaching career in New York state.
How has high school changed since you were a student? "As a student, we were not allowed to question anything in our classes. The teacher, the principal, and the school in general were assumed to be the authority to be respected whether right or wrong. Also, nearly all parents supported the teachers and coaches in any disagreement over things like grades and overall behavior."
Why did you become a teacher? “I had a master’s degree in public administration and I did not like government work. I also had a compelling drive to be a coach. Beyond that, I always had enjoyed working with high school kids at summer camps. And I had an unhappy high school experience and I felt that I could make the high school days better for someone.”
Is there a moment you remember most? “The students from our Elections class staged an unbelievable debate between Mitt Romney (Abe Ziner ’13) and Barack Obama (Nolan Ellsworth ’13) in front of the student body," Bill said. And "In my third year at GSA, the school placed all brand new desks in my classroom. When I was absent one day, Mrs. O, our assistant head of school, and a group of students replaced my new desks with old brown ones. I did not notice the change until mid-afternoon of the day I returned when a teacher showed me a before and after photo.”
What are your hopes for the future of GSA? “I hope that we maintain our historic tolerance for others and our resistance to cliques. I would want us to keep our eclectic student body and our terrific mix of unique courses, especially Holocaust, Street Law, and Current Affairs!"
What role has failure played in your life? “As a child, I was the least athletic among our neighborhood kids. Being constantly mocked for not being able to hit a baseball, I decided to become a basketball addict, maybe to 'show them.' As time progressed, I pushed myself to become an outstanding student and athlete in high school and then in college.”
What will you miss? “I will miss walking to work and enjoying the sunlight bouncing off the harbor onto my face. This is the time I think about all our students from past graduations. I will miss the laughter in class, the hallways, the office, the faculty room and the gym; the incredible diversity of opinions and the wonderful discussions with all of my students; the privilege of working with an awesome faculty and administration; and, of course, being the 'building administrator' of our McIntyre building 'cabal.'"
Any advice for students? “Participate in life. Promote excellence, decency, democracy, fairness, and tolerance in all you do. Always try to be more tomorrow than you are today.”
Read more GSA news in the Summer 2019 GSA Matters!