Next fall, Winters will see its first school year in decades without a Fridae in the classroom. Sixth grade teacher Rebecca Fridae is retiring at the end of this year.
Since entering the Winters school district in her early 20s, Fridae has taught sixth grade, English and ancient history to multiple generations of Winters students.
As her tenure in the Winters school district increased, Fridae began to see the faces of former students return to her classroom in the form of their children. She laughs when she mentions how similar they could be to their parents.
“That’s one of the joys that nobody told me about,” Fridae says when looking back on her time in the classroom.
Fridae recently learned that if she put off retirement for one more year she would see a third generation student in her classroom. She admits the idea was tempting, but she ultimately decided that by the time she was teaching former students’ grandchildren, it would really be time to retire.
This is coming from a woman who couldn’t imagine herself teaching for more than a few years, and who didn’t even think she wanted to be a teacher in the first place.
Fridae started her career dead-set against going into education. All tallied, Fridae had 12 family members who were either professors or teachers, and she wanted to do something different.
She studied journalism in college, and got a job as a reporter for the Desert Dispatch in Barstow. She found extra work as a substitute teacher, and realized that if she were a teacher, she would have the same vacations as her new husband, Woody Fridae.
Before finding her place at the head of the sixth grade classroom, Fridae moved from grade to grade. She loved her first class of fourth graders, had a second grade classroom in Newberry Springs that almost put her off teaching for good, and found she didn’t like teaching high school because at 22 she thought she looked as young as her students.
Once both Rebecca and Woody were teaching, they began looking for a school district that would hire them as a pair. They found luck while visiting family in Winters.
John Atherton, who happened to be a friend of Rebecca’s parents, told the couple that there were two job openings in the Winters school district. Rebecca and Woody decided that they might try it out for a few years before moving on to another city.
Rebecca stared teaching sixth graders with a more experienced co-teacher. The woman had been a teacher for eight years, and Fridae says that at the time she couldn’t imagine teaching for that long.
The Winters students changed her mind.
“I had the most wonderful class,” Fridae says of her first year at Winters. She says that she still loves Winters students. Fridae has found them to be some of the nicest children, and she enjoys their curiosity.
After her first year in Winters, Fridae taught sixth graders almost exclusively.
“I think sixth grade is a really important year for most kids. They are so ready to learn,” Fridae says. She likens their brains to sponges, ready to soak up any information available.
Fridae believes that some of her most crucial lessons had nothing to do with English grammar or ancient civilizations. She sees sixth grade as a pivotal year in the lives of her students, and that teacher intervention and support can affect the course of their lives.
“I feel like my job is to keep them on this side of the fence,” Fridae explains, where there is lifelong learning and prosperity.
Fridae keeps track of her students even after they leave her classroom. She has written letters to some of her former students who are now incarcerated. The emotion is apparent in her voice when she talks about them.
“They’re my kids, you know?” Fridae says. “I love them, even the difficult ones. They have sparks, they have wit.”
She is quick to point out that many more of her students have gone on to accomplish great things. She talks about her former students who now work with universities or non-profits with great pride.
Even though the impressions that her many students have left may never fade, Fridae is relieved to leave the trappings of the classroom behind. Throughout the year, she has been jettisoning posters, worksheets and teaching tools from her classroom.
She isn’t sad to see it go. As the end of her final school year approaches, she has boxes of miscellaneous items ready to leave with students or head to the recycling bin.
What’s next for the Fridaes? They might be back in a classroom in a few years, though not in Winters. Rebecca and Woody have long-held plans to live abroad and teach English. Rebecca says that they hope to teach in Central America, and use their Spanish language skills.
Before they find themselves at the head of a classroom again, they are planning a much-deserved vacation. As Fridae’s former students head back to school, she will be in Greece, relaxing and exploring the ruins of the ancient civilization she taught about for decades.
When asked about her plans for retirement, Fridae has a response that is bright, practical and witty, much like the well-liked teacher herself. When reflecting on a future free from teaching and grading English literature, Fridae says, “I think I’ll have time to read books that I want to read.”