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Searching for a new passion


Second-grade teacher retires after 36 years at Brookwood Elementary



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PAIGE BEHM, a student in Karen Barrett-Jackson's last second-grade class at Brookwood Elementary School, gave her teacher a hug during the school's awards night.
July 01, 2013 | 12:49 PM
Karen Barrett-Jackson, Brookwood Elementary School's second-grade teacher for the last 36 years, has retired.

This may surprise some, considering how upbeat and passionate the well-liked Barrett-Jackson is about her job. Such optimism and desire to teach remained during a telephone interview last week, when she spoke about her former job at Brookwood. It was if she couldn't wait to return next fall.

"I'm pretty sure I will sub a lot, or work part-time in teaching," she said. "I'm not sure yet where (but) I want to have my hands in education."

Now, Barrett-Jackson said, it's just time for her to retire.

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Not only does she want to spend more time with her family and travel, she said she also wants to find a new passion.

"I still have a lot of energy," Barrett-Jackson said. "I think I can still make a difference."

Her pedigree in that department appears to be solid.

Brookwood students gave Barrett-Jackson flowers during the school's recent awards night ceremony. Patrick Sherman, vice president of the school board, gave a speech in her honor.

"Karen, the greatest compliment I can give you is the old saying, 'A great teacher is like a candle — they both consume themselves to light the way for others," Sherman said.

He also said Barrett-Jackson played a big part in the success of students who have gone on to graduate from Brookwood Middle and Badger High schools.

So how does one undertake the daunting task of following in her footsteps?

"I think you have to have the passion," said Barrett-Jackson, when asked to give advice to new teachers, including whoever takes her place. "Your love has to be unconditional for the kids and the job. You just have to embrace it and just know that you're making a difference. Teachers change lives."

Barrett-Jackson even has written proof of that last statement.

She said since her retirement, she has received more than 50 cards and letters from people who wish her well.

In the family

Apparently, the secret to Barrett-Jackson's success has been passion, which she said came at an early age.

"I always wanted to be a teacher, since as long as I can remember," she said.

Barrett-Jackson said she used to play school and pretend to be a teacher with her twin sister, Kathy Murphy.

Murphy and several family members became teachers, and one of them even became a principal.

Although they grew up mostly in Burlington, Barrett-Jackson said she has a grandmother who was one of the first teachers to be licensed in Iowa.

"I have her teacher's certificate she got … in the early 1900s," she said.

Barrett-Jackson followed suit, obtaining a degree at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, then a master's at Aurora University in Illinois.

In October 1977, she subbed at Brookwood for about two weeks, then was offered the job of second-grade teacher.

"I honestly didn't even know where Genoa City was, and I got a sub call there," she laughed. "They were so nice. They had really small class sizes. Everyone was very welcoming. I was so excited when I got the job."

Barrett-Jackson said it's the challenges that made the job so enjoyable.

And, of course, the main reason school exists.

"I think I really just love little kids," she said.

Actually, there's a lot Barrett-Jackson said she loves about being a teacher, from keeping up with curriculum and technology challenges to expecting the unexpected. She said she's not a "morning person," but coming into work each day always made her smile. Even when you consider the severity of the, um, challenges.

"Every night, I'd have everything laid out for my next day," she said. "In teaching, you can't just walk in (unprepared) because you'll have a parent call you or a kid will come in and throw up on you. There's always something."

She said there comes a time in one's career when confidence sets in. "It was a good 20 years before I was, like, very confident, when you can say to a parent, 'I'm sure this works because of this," Barrett-Jackson said.

But does she believe what Sherman and others have told her, that she has made a difference at Brookwood? "It sounds weird, but I just know it in my heart," Barrett-Jackson said. "I also get affirmations from other parents, other teachers and Mr. (district administrator Bill) Lehner … I'll see parents of children I've had years ago and they'll say, 'My child's a teacher because of you.'"

She said the challenge now is to find a new passion. One on hand, Barrett-Jackson said she has worked since she was 15, so it will be nice to spend more time with her parents, Cliff and Shirley Kinsey. And on June 11, she married James Jackson. Barrett-Jackson said she hopes to travel more and find "projects."

But she threw out some ideas for a new part-time job. All of them were related to education. Then again, Barrett-Jackson said she always has lots of ideas. That's part of the problem.

"I'm kind of in a quandary with that," she said. "I want to do something different, I'm just not sure what."

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