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Smith Closes Books On 35-Year Teaching Career

Posted 6/5/2017

JANA Smith has retired after 35 years as an elementary school teacher in Sedgwick. JANA Smith has retired after 35 years as an elementary school teacher in Sedgwick. By Pilar Martin

SEDGWICK—When she first started school, Jana Smith didn’t want any part of it.

“I hated it. I kept going back home, and my mom would just march me back,” she said. Smith began her school career at Bentley in the first grade. She said back then they didn’t have kindergarten.

It wasn’t until third grade that her attitude changed. “I had a really sweet teacher, Mrs. Evans, who taught me to love school,” Smith said. That change would find Smith still in a classroom, 35 years later. Smith spent her final day as a teacher, last Thursday, May 25.

And what’s more amazing is that 35 years of teaching was centered within 15 miles of where she grew up. Her family moved Sedgwick in the sixth grade, and she graduated from high school there. After high school, she attended Hutchinson Community College, and then completed her bachelor’s degree at Bethel College in Newton.

Smith began her teaching career in Sedgwick. She started out as a part-time kindergarten teacher. She has taught kindergarten through sixth grade, and for the past 25 years she’s taught kindergarten or first grade.

Smith even taught her own children, Erika and Ty. Erika went on to become a teacher as well and teaches third grade at Sedgwick. “I asked to have my own children and they let me. I think it worked out well, although I was harder on them than other students,” Smith said.

She has even taught three of her grandchildren, Dalyn, Hadyn, and Weslyn Anderson, all Erika’s children. Dalyn just graduated from KSU, and Hadyn and Weslyn are still at Sedgwick. “It was fun because I got to know all of the kids through my children and grandchildren,” Smith said.

And some of her students besides her own are now teachers at Sedgwick. Katie Davison Wendler is one of Smith’s former students who now teaches at Sedgwick.

Smith and her daughter Erika, even got their Masters degrees together from Wichita State in 2004.

“Erika wanted to do it and she convinced me to go to school with her,” Smith said.

Teaching has changed a lot as you can imagine in the past 35 years. Smith said the biggest change is technology. “When I first started out, we had one computer in the teachers’ workroom, and we took turns entering information,” Smith said.

She now has a laptop and uses 10 iPads and a smart board in her first grade classroom. Teaching outcomes have changed too. “We only taught consonants in kindergarten when I started. Now the students have to know their vowels, and how to read when they enter first grade,” Smith said.

And students are writing sentences in the first grade. “We worked on a puzzle about summer fun. Once they have completed the puzzle, then they will draw a picture of what they want to do this summer. After that, the students will write two to three sentences to describe their pictures. They have to know a lot more at an earlier age these days,” Smith said.

Smith is not quite sure what she will do now that her teaching career is at an end. “I love to garden, work with flowers, and do yard work,” she said. “We have some updates that are planned for the house.” Her husband Terry retired in February.

Superintendent Larry Roth said Smith will be missed. “Jana Smith has touched many futures during her time at Sedgwick,” he said. “Over the past few weeks, I have had several of Mrs. Smith’s former student share the impact she had on their lives. Her time as an educator has been time very well spend.  She will be missed here at 439.”

Smith does know that she and her husband will do a little traveling. That first trip will likely be around the middle of August. “I don’t think I can be around when school starts in the fall. I don’t think I can be in town that first week of school,” she said.