Coyle, French Complete Long Careers at PES

Thursday, August 14, 2014
Longtime local teachers Kathy Coyle (left) and Laura French retired from PES earlier this year, taking with them nearly seven decades of classroom experience.

When classes resume at Piggott Elementary School next week two long time members of the teaching staff will be absent, as both Kathy Coyle and Laura French have begun new chapters of their lives. The two educators chose to retire at the conclusion of this past school year, with French making the move into the college classroom and Coyle looking forward to a deserved break and quiet time at home.

Coyle and French leave behind sparkling records of long and productive years in the classroom, and between them have logged enough years to add-up to a lifetime of teaching. Recently they sat down and discussed their time at PES and what the future holds.

For the past number of years Coyle has taught third grade, while French has been a fixture in her kindergarten class since first coming on the scene. Between them they have amassed an impressive 67 years as educators, most at the local campus.

Although both are local natives, and PHS grads, the two arrived in the classrooms of Piggott Elementary School in vastly different manners.

"I went to school at Pollard until they consolidated, and graduated from Piggott High School," Coyle noted of her background of a simple life on the family farm. After college she first taught in Maynard, and even spent a year teaching at ASU before returning to take a job with her alma mater in 1989. "And I taught my last 25 years here," she added with pride. Contending with health issues, Coyle chose to retire from the classroom at the midway point of the 2014-15 school year.

As for French, her path was a bit different as she grew up in Piggott the daughter of Dr. Hillard Duckworth and his wife, Gwen.

"I graduated from Piggott High and came back here and got a job teaching kindergarten in 1984," French remembers of her early years. "And, I've been here ever since."

Along the way the former Laura Duckworth married local farmer Gary French, and the couple has three daughters. All three of the girls, Hillary, Hunter and Haley attended and graduated from Piggott Schools.

But, for French the decision to retire was different, as she chose to transition her career after being offered a job as an instructor of future teachers at SEMO.

Looking back on the decades of their careers, the two noted some things changed drastically, while others have remained much the same, as the thousands of students have made their way through the halls of the local school.

"I really don't think things have changed all that much over the years, at least not the teaching aspect of the job," Coyle noted. "When I first came here I taught a reading class to several different grades, then later on in my career I just taught one class, and that was much simpler."

But, for French the role of kindergarten teacher has changed many times.

"Things changed drastically over the years I taught kindergarten," French explained. "For so many years it was mainly the social interaction, now it's all about the educational aspect."

French noted in the earlier days the students would spend more of their time playing, "Sometimes we would color a picture, then go to recess and have a snack. Of course, we'd try to make sure they could write their names and learn some of the basics, but now so much more is expected of them and they start working on the educational aspect right away."

As for Coyle, she has long asserted the simplicity of learning and has maintained a steady approach which has resulted in great success. Faced with new guidelines, and regulations, she continues to adhere to those ideas which have served her well for decades. In summarizing her philosophy she confesses to a bit of a different way of looking at the subject.

"I'm not sure about others, but I've always had the underlying feeling that these kids may not ever remember any of the things that I have taught them, but they'll always remember the way I treated them," Coyle explained. "I've always felt they would remember if they felt they had been treated well, or if they felt they had not been treated well. That's what I felt they would remember most."

"I know we've both loved our time here, and have great memories of Piggott Elementary School," French surmised. "But, for me it was time to move on and I am looking forward to the opportunity. I am really excited about the chance that SEMO has given me."

She'll be working with future teachers in the SEMO Early Childhood Education program, based in Malden. French will also be helping place future teachers in their observation and student teaching positions.

She has also been continuing her education as well, and is currently seeking her Doctorate Degree in Leadership and Management, although she has indicated she has no interest in pursuing a career as an administrator.

As for Coyle, nearly 40 years in the classroom have earned her a well-deserved rest, and she's enjoying the opportunity.

"I'm looking forward to having the chance to just sit at home," Coyle notes. "Just sit at home and enjoy my house, I've been paying for it all these years and never seem to have the time to just sit and enjoy it."

Sadly, science has never developed an adequate system to measure the impact teachers, and other educators, have on their students. But, if such a device were available it's no doubt researchers would find that teachers such as Coyle and French have a long lasting and positive impact on the students they've nurtured over the decades. It's a goal all new teachers should aspire to reach.

As for French and Coyle, regardless of the future they both echoed the fact they'll always be thankful for the opportunity to have an impact on their own community. "As I said in my letter of resignation, I appreciate having the chance to teach at my hometown school," Coyle surmised.

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