The Ottumwa Courier

June 4, 2012

Mayer-Baum recalls long teaching career

Browsing Around

Courier Staff Writer

AGENCY — “I have a story to tell,” said Phyllis J. Mayer-Baum of Agency, 84, a retired teacher.

When someone tells me they have a story to tell, they’re usually right, and Phyllis is right on the beam. Although Phyllis is usually found in Agency, I recently visited her at Good Samaritan Center where she’s receiving additional therapy.

She will turn 85 this coming Saturday and her story is about 26 years of teaching first-grade students in the Cardinal Schools and Batavia Schools.

Phyllis said she has taught many youngsters and still sees them as adults who are now lawyers, druggists, models, farmers, beauty salon operators and so much more.

While Phyllis chatted about her teaching experience, it was easy to notice she offered a lot of ideas to her students. She also recalled what tools she used years ago to inspire her students to learn more and try harder.

Phyllis said she wasn’t sure what to think when she walked into her first class of first-graders — 25 of them — in the Cardinal school District.

“How do you teach first grade?” she said.

She got started with “the check mark” on the blackboard.

“I made a sign about the kids who get check marks by their names,” she said. “Kids got check marks if they didn’t follow the rules.”

The next check mark meant no recess. Then, if a student “earned” the fifth check mark, that meant a call to the student’s parents.

Phyllis settled into teaching youngsters and taught 20 years in Batavia schools. She also collected the ideas presented at four regional teacher meetings.

One of the ideas was making a learning center in the classroom. Phyllis used reading exercises, plus more in math, phonics, listening and science. The art center disbanded, but she continued with the reading center and divided those students into three groups — Cardinals, Bluebirds and Robins.

Phyllis said she told her students they “HAVE to read” and told them to use the centers she created.

Then she decided to send for cardboard boxes to build a house in her classroom. She put it together and put a table, lamp and chair in it. That gave a student a quieter place to read for a while.

One year, Phyllis teamed up with Ariel Hamann, the kindergarten teacher, to do a circus. They had a magician, dancers, singers and more.

After one teaching conference, Phyllis decided the school should create a record for the band and include the vocal music students, who sang for 15 minutes.

“It’s fun to have kids come up to you and talk about the school days,” she said.

The Cardinal School District is “turning out well, and the principal is on the ball,” according to Phyllis.