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Early education teacher will retire after 23 years

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When a 3- or 4-year old first walks into Kay Delaney's early childhood family education (ECFE) class at Valley Crossing Community School on the first day of school, there are definitely a few tears.

"They have so many fears and apprehensions about leaving home and coming to school for the first time — the fall is definitely quite chaotic with lots of tears," Delaney said. "But come spring all of a sudden there's a calm and the students are starting to develop a love of school.

"Their fears change into a wild excitement about learning."

Delaney will be saying goodbye to her last group of students this spring when she retires after 23 years as a teacher.

"I'm just very peaceful about it," she said, "but I am going to miss the children and the staff a lot.

"It's just time for me to go."

Lifelong lessons

Delaney said she found her way to ECFE because she always had a soft spot for young children, especially when it came to exposing them to new things.

"There's just something really wonderful about being with young families during that meaningful time of their life when children are just experiencing school for the first time," she said. "I think I have always just enjoyed young children — their eagerness, their enthusiasm to learn, it's just very contagious.

"When they enjoy learning, it makes me excited of course."

As an early education teacher, Delaney and her team of fellow teachers work with their students on four core areas of learning — social/emotional, literacy, math and fine motor.

In terms of social/emotional, Delaney said, it's about learning how to share, take turns, listen, follow directions and make friends.

With literacy, the teachers work with students on writing their names, stories, and the identification of letters and their sounds.

With math students learn about counting, number awareness and shapes.

Fine motor skills are also important for children to learn, Delaney said, such as how to use scissors or a crayon.

"All of these skills are the foundation of future learning," she said.

Making a lasting impression

As a teacher, Delaney said it's important to create an environment where children feel safe.

"It's about creating an environment that is very positive so that children can develop self-confidence, but then on top of that presenting new skills to them," she said. "If they can develop a real positive attitude about learning, it excites them."

Delaney said she has seen her fair share of changes in education over the years, whether is the increased use of technology, new assessment tools or new ways of teaching.

"Every year I feel very fresh because its continually changing," she said.

One change that has been extremely rewarding, Delaney said, is the inclusive model, which incorporates general education and special education students into the same classroom.

"It's very challenging, but it's also very rewarding," she said, "because it teaches the students empathy, compassion and acceptance.

"It teaches them that we're all alike in many ways, but we're all different."

As she readies for retirement, Delaney said she excited to spend more time with family and have more opportunities to travel, but she can also see herself finding volunteer teaching opportunities in the community.

"I feel so grateful to have had a career to be with people in such a meaningful time in their life," she said. "My biggest joy is just to realize that children have developed a love of learning and of school during the time that I have them.

"It's just very rewarding to move with them through those first years of school."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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