Robin Shalline says goodbye to Beeman ‘family’ after 36 years
NEW HAVEN — On June 15, as Beeman Elementary kids unwrap their last-day-of-school popsicles and scatter for the summer, longtime teacher Robin Shalline will join her colleagues on the front steps of the New Haven school and wave goodbye to her students for the very last time.
After teaching for 36 years at Beeman, Shalline is retiring.
Through it all, she’s never forgotten what it’s like to be a little kid.
“It doesn’t take long for me to feel like I’m eight years old again,” Shalline said in a recent interview. She understands the worry, the hurt feelings, all of it.
Students and parents agree.
“With both my children, Mrs. Shalline was able to find ways to connect with them, and always was willing to try 100 different ways to help them grasp a subject,” Beeman parent Eve Shepard told the Independent.
Shepard’s son, Silas, had Shalline a few years ago, and her daughter, Sadie, is a current student.
“Whenever Sadie asks, Mrs. Shalline will make time to have lunch with her, and she always listens,” Shepard said. For Silas, Shalline combed through her personal library to find books he might like.
It was the same for Sam Reiss, who graduated from college last month.
“I always just thought Robin was really cool,” she said in a phone call with the Independent. “Very outgoing, very happy.”
Shalline was a good listener, Reiss added:
“She was the kind of person you could have a conversation with and then realize that you had been doing all the talking the whole time.”
As a teacher, Shalline had a lot of energy, too, Reiss recalled.
“I have a vivid memory of her at recess racing a kid around the bases on the baseball field.”
When Reiss was in third grade she and Shalline became pen pals.
At the end of every school year, Shalline and her share-class co-teacher Dawn Thibault would encourage their students to write to them during the summer. Over the years Shalline received hundreds of letters and postcards.
“They were mostly about ‘I went fishing’ or ‘I’m taking swimming lessons,’” Shalline said. But all of them were special, because “a child is inviting you into her life.”
For Reiss and Shalline, the correspondence just never ended.
“Eventually it became a competition between me and Robin to see who sent the first card of the summer,” Reiss said. They would tell each other about their vacations, what they were up to, what books they were reading. Reiss recalled how she was excited to tell Shalline when she was accepted to Bates College and Shalline shared with Reiss that her own child had also attended Bates.
When Reiss would come home on break from college, the two would grab coffee or breakfast and catch up.
After six years teaching at the Kingsland Bay School in Middlebury, Shalline began her Beeman career in 1982 as an enrichment teacher.
She was also a gym teacher for a while, which, she said, was unplanned.
“I had to read a lot of books for that, especially about basketball, which I didn’t know very much about,” she recalled.
When a regular teaching position opened up at the school Shalline and Thibault, who were friends, applied to teach it together; Shalline said it gave her more flexibility with raising her own kids.
There had never been a job share at the school before, but the school board let them make a go of it, and they did just that — for 22 years.
Shalline and Thibault made life-size drawings of themselves, cut them in half and created a new image — half Shalline, half Thibault — which they attached to their classroom door. Theirs became known as “The Share Class.”
The teachers alternated full days on Mondays and Fridays and split the remaining days in half. They soon discovered, however, that they were wearing the children out on split days. A fresh teacher would come in halfway through the day with new energy and focus, but the kids couldn’t keep up, Shalline said. As with everything else about their unusual situation, they adjusted.
The collaboration made them more effective teachers, Shalline said.
“If I was struggling with a child, I would ask Dawn to watch me with that child” and offer feedback. Or they would brainstorm ways to help students with particular needs. “We’ve spent hours on the phone over the years, working through things.”
Though they both worked a lot more than 50 percent of full-time, the job share gave Shalline the flexibility to be both a mom and a teacher, she said.
Once retired, Shalline says she will miss the kids, of course, and she’ll miss the traditions: Judi Smith Day, just before winter break, when students and parents are invited to skate together at Middlebury College’s Kenyon Arena; Memorial Day, when they walk to the cemetery and lay flowers on the graves of soldiers; and waving goodbye on the last day of school.
“Beeman feels like a big family,” she said wistfully.
Shalline is looking forward to traveling and getting involved with helping the refugee community, she said, as well as spending more time with her family.
Lately, she’s been thinking back to her early days.
“I thought I would have it all figured out after five years,” she said. “But then I realized I will never have it all figured out, which is why I love the job.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].
Robin Shalline is one of three long serving Addison Northeast Supervisory Union teachers who’ll be retiring this year. The others are:
• Suzanne Foley, who has been a teacher at Monkton Central School since 1990.
• Peg “Margaret” Sutlive, who has taught at Bristol Elementary School since 1996.
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