Making connections

Mrs. Eddy retires after more than three decades of teaching literature at Sundance High School

(Sarah Pridgeon photo) Having taught for 37 years, Kathy Eddy looks forward to the  fun and freedom of retirement.
(Sarah Pridgeon photo) Having taught for 37 years, Kathy Eddy looks forward to the fun and freedom of retirement.

By Sarah Pridgeon

Whether it’s the sonnets of Shakespeare or the myths of Gilgamesh, Mrs. Kathy Eddy believes there is always something in a piece of writing that a student can personally connect with. Showing her class how the emotions and experiences of the characters relate to their own lives is how Sundance High School’s long-time English teacher breeds a love and understanding of literature.

“I think they have to identify with it. It can be older than old, but there’s something in it that they can connect with,” she says. “Even though it might be Shakespeare, there’s love and there’s vengeance, death – the emotional connection.”

At the bottom of students’ response papers, Eddy asks them to connect somehow to the writing.

“It might not be anything that they’ve ever experienced,” she says.

One particular story, for example, tells of a girl who gives birth in the deep south and earns the ire of her husband for reasons beyond her control. None of the students had had the same life experience and most had never visited that part of the country, but all were able to connect to something, whether it was the idea of being shunned or simply the humidity.

Meanwhile, another story focuses on the idea of all of us being just a number unless we do something to distinguish ourselves.

“We’re all unknown and, as long as you don’t cause waves, everybody likes you, you do your best for your community – but you’re still just a number,” she explains.

For the kids, that could have been an idea too large to digest. To bring it closer to home, Eddy pointed out that each of them is defined by the numbers on their driver’s license, student ID card and more.

“I think, in any subject, it’s learning how to think. We have different vessels that we give them – here’s a story, here’s a poem, here’s a piece of writing – just to get them to think a little beyond what’s on the paper,” Eddy says.

Most pieces of writing lead to discussion, some of it heated and sometimes with the class in full agreement. It’s always different, Eddy says, but it’s also always productive.

“Sometimes I can’t plan appropriately because, if we’re going on an idea in discussion, so what if I have something else in my lesson plan? I think, if it’s good, we just keep going,” she smiles.

With Anglo-Saxon, medieval and Renaissance writing on the curriculum, Eddy feels that covering these older pieces of literature is an important introduction for the students.

“I teach a lot of classics, I’m kind of old fashioned that way. I just don’t think people will pick them up along the way in life,” she says.

On the other side of the coin, Mrs. Eddy has always made sure to include plenty of practical skills in her classes – skills that connect a student to their future needs. By the time her kids graduate, they have written resumes and letters of recommendation and documented their strengths and weaknesses.

Sophomore students undergo a unit on speech, another practical skill they will find themselves called upon to utilize. Eddy asks students to give speeches to talk a person they find interesting; speak about how a certain object symbolizes themselves; or explain how to do something, such as change the oil in a car, perform a massage or do the chicken dance.

“One kid brought a bucket of water and asked me to babysit his fish. It swam and swam and I kind of got a little adjusted to that fish – and then he gutted him, showing the class how to gut a fish,” she laughs.

It’s all about learning to think differently, she says, and to develop the soft skills that will prove vital in the adult world. Teamwork, for instance, is something her yearbook teams experience in spades.

“My yearbook class has to work together to get the pictures, the information, the score book. I think a lot of soft skills are very important and communication is part of working together – even just knowing how to ask a question,” she says.

“Every day, every period is different. Hands down, my favorite thing about teaching is the kids, they make my day.”

Mrs. Eddy has been a fixture of Crook County’s schools for the last 37 years, starting out in Moorcroft and moving to Sundance nine years later, in the fall of 1988.

“I came with the building – or the building came with me, I don’t know which,” she jokes.

“I do like small town. I get to know the kids a lot better – you can’t help but get to know them – and it was just a perfect setting to come in to. Of course, it’s changed over the years with larger classes, but I haven’t had very many bad days – ever.”

Having loved school since kindergarten, teaching was a natural career choice for Eddy. Choosing a specialty was less easy, though.

“I really didn’t know what area I wanted to go in to; I started out in the science field and then I really liked math and then I just happened to fall into English and I liked those classes, so I just kept taking them,” she says.

“I actually have a major in communications and I have a little bit of drama, so it all fell together.”

After finishing her education in Spearfish, the travel bug bit. Her opportunity to see far shores soon came in the form of an exchange program to the south of England.

“Then I returned and my first job was in Moorcroft. I had interviewed in Worland and came back through Moorcroft – I heard that they had an opening,” she remembers.

Retiring this year, Eddy bids a fond farewell to the district that shaped her teaching career.

“I’ll miss the kids especially, but I have awesome people to work with. We lean on each other’s shoulders when we need to and celebrate successes,” she smiles.

“I hope every kid has learned some things. I think every teacher would say that. English is such a mixed bag and that’s what I love about it.”