Bristol Elementary’s Sandy Haddock to retire after 42 years

BRISTOL — “In my classroom, ‘I can’t’ is not an option,” said Bristol Elementary School teacher Sandy Haddock. “I tell them ‘Yes you can! You may need help getting there.’ And I give them examples, like ‘Mrs. Haddock can’t draw worth beans, but I still keep trying.’”
For 42 years, Haddock has been encouraging and inspiring kids. After the Bristol Elementary school bell rings on Friday Haddock will retire.
Haddock describes herself as a shy person who found her voice in the classroom “helping kids to feel successful and enjoy their learning.” But she’s also, clearly, an educational powerhouse whose very descriptions of the classroom activities she has devised make you eager to sit right back down in those tiny second-grade chairs.
Who wouldn’t want to learn science if it involved playing with wind-up toys and eating chocolate bars?
Haddock graduated from Johnson State College in 1973 with a bachelor’s in elementary education.
“There was a flood of teachers on the market, so it was a little challenging,” said Haddock, as she remembered landing that first job.
Haddock began her career teaching in special education programs at schools in South Burlington and Winooski, earning a second bachelor’s in special education along the way. She was welcomed by the principal when she came to Bristol Elementary School in 1985.
“Terry Evarts believed in me and trusted me and gave me a classroom of my own. And I just jumped right in, and I never wanted to leave,” she said.
Haddock’s been at Bristol Elementary ever since, teaching first or second grade or a looping or combined 1/2 classroom. This year’s assignment is second grade.
Among her greatest loves are teaching science and building literacy, and her approach to teaching a lesson often integrates science, literacy and math.
“I took every extra science course I could in college and had a wonderful professor who encouraged me to do that,” said Haddock. “I took entomology, and I took biology, and I did special projects on my own for credits — fostering that love of science. I love doing hands-on science with my kids all year long.”
Back to those chocolate bars and wind-up toys.
“Right now we’re right in the middle of the states of matter: solids, liquids and gases,” said Haddock. “I brought in a chocolate bar and I brought them to the rug. I didn’t say anything. I plugged the electric fry pan in, unwrapped the chocolate, put it in the fry pan and said, ‘Hmm. I’m wondering how I could change this in some way, and what are your suggestions?’
“It’s a lot of inquiry.”
Haddock’s second-graders tackled some physics with the wind-up toys.
“I have a whole collection,” she said, pointing to her shelves stocked with decades of collected materials. “I read ‘Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse’ to them first and then I brought out the wind-up toys for them to come up with a task. We talked about ‘How do you write a hypothesis?’ and ‘How many trials should you have to collect data?’ And that was a lot of fun.”
Studying the natural world is also a passion of Haddock’s, and she finds that even in a small Vermont town like Bristol, kids are “so tuned in to being inside and using electronics that they’re not experiencing what it’s like to build a fort and appreciate the quietness … A lot of kids have never grown up and experienced being out in the natural environment. They’re afraid of it. So I do a lot of fostering that love of the natural environment and bring in trips to Shelburne Farms or the Audubon bird center.”
Closer to home, Haddock has been an important part of a collaboration between the school and the Watershed Center, making a small natural property across the street from Bristol Elementary accessible to students, with a trail and a sitting area with logs.
“We wanted a natural environment so we could sit in the woods and write and paint. And now we have the opportunity to take kids and do a lot more exploration. We’re thrilled.”
Haddock has also introduced her students to bird watching and has found that this nature activity has generated a lot of enthusiasm from families.
“I do a lot on bird watching, listening to their songs, going out and just sitting and listening and do a whole bird unit. And parents have really — that’s the most feedback I’ve had in terms of ‘Wow. We now go bird watching’ or ‘Now we know what an owl really is instead of a mourning dove.’”
Building literacy is another pillar of Haddock’s teaching. She’s been collecting picture books, using them in the classroom and sharing them with colleagues since her early days at Johnson State.
“My children’s lit teacher at Johnson got me so into picture books. And I started buying picture books from then on. I own thousands. My colleagues would say, ‘If you’ve got a unit, if you’ve got an author, go ask Sandy!’”
Haddock loves reading aloud to her students and also uses stories to help build character and community. She’ll often choose books that help young boys and girls break out of gender stereotypes — books about girls who grew up to become famous scientists or boys who show empathy.
“‘When the Bees Fly Home’ is one of my favorites that I use in the beginning of the year. It does the life cycle of the bees but it also talks about empathy and a little boy who’s not really recognized by his dad but his little brother is … ‘Root Beer and Banana’ is about a little girl meeting another little girl who doesn’t have enough money for a popsicle. They’re from two very different backgrounds and they befriend each other. They end up splitting and sharing the popsicles so they each have one half of each flavor.”
Over the decades, Haddock has seen shifts in education, but for her it always boils down to the basics. Building community and the ability to communicate for Haddock are perhaps the most important lessons she teaches every year.
“I feel like I’ve weathered a lot of change. But the pendulum swings back and forth and comes right back again to some of those basics. It really comes back down to encouraging kids to build independence and communicate and get along so that they’re ready for cooperation, to build those skills for the work field, whatever they may choose to do. How do you communicate in a positive way to your peers whether they’re second-graders or fifth-graders or adults? How do you be collaborative? How do you problem solve together?”
Haddock also feels it’s important to encourage children to be risk-takers and to embrace mistakes as a learning opportunity.
“You can see the confidence level building, just being more self-assured and being a risk-taker. I think the big thing is getting kids to be risk-takers. I use a lot of personal stories, and I make mistakes. And that’s the other thing that I tell my kids: There’s no such thing as a bad mistake. Mistakes help you grow and learn. And I will purposefully leave mistakes for them to catch me.”
Haddock has never stopped pushing herself to be a better educator. In 1998, she earned a master’s in education from Saint Michael’s College. And every year she’s taken a class or two to add more tools to her pedagogical toolbox.
Not surprisingly, Haddock has been repeatedly honored by her colleagues.
“Sandy is an incredibly dedicated, thoughtful and skilled educator who will be greatly missed at Bristol and across the SU,” said Assistant Superintendent Catrina DiNapoli, who was Haddock’s principal at Bristol Elementary for a number of years.
Among the honors Haddock has received are an ANeSU special education award (1997), the ANeSU Education Award (2003), and the Patricia Cummings Pierce Excellence in Teaching Award (2005). In 2013 she was among those honored statewide on Vermont Outstanding Teachers Recognition Day.
Looking ahead to where her path will go after June 9, Haddock’s zest for living is evident. Along with continuing to help her husband in the family business, Shelburne’s Gardenside Nurseries, Haddock has a range of hobbies and interests to explore.
“I love photography, especially nature photography. I love to kayak. I love my gardens. I love hiking.”
These and many loves will surely occupy Haddock’s time, after she takes some well-earned time to pause and reflect.
But tellingly, this veteran educator adds one final love to her plans for retirement.
“I have to read books to kids.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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