Retiring OFA teachers look back on careers

John Tebo, left, and Kathy Swan, two secondary teachers at Ogdensburg Free Academy, are retiring after 32 years. Christopher Lenney/Ogdensburg Journal

OGDENSBURG — After 32 years of teaching at Ogdensburg Free Academy, Kathleen H. Swan and John R. Tebo will proudly look back on the “Aha!” moments when they retire from the district later this month.

“I love the ‘Aha’ moments, that’s always my favorite, especially in math. A kid is struggling, then, ‘Aha, I got it.’ Those ‘Aha’ moments are my favorite memories,” said Swan, who like Tebo, joined the Ogdensburg City School District as permanent substitute teachers in September 1989.

Tebo agrees with Swan that the moment when the light switches on in a student’s eyes when they finally understand a difficult topic is fulfilling.

“My favorite memories would probably be the kid who struggled all year but finally does well on the Regents,” Tebo said. “The kid you expected to be in summer school and then you call him up on the phone and say, ‘Hey guess what? See you in September,’ and they say ‘What!’ Those are the good ones,” he said.

For 32 years, Swan and Tebo have been mainstays in the teaching ranks at OFA.

Both permanent substitutes when they joined OFA in 1989, Swan, a 1984 graduate of Cazenovia Central School, began her career half-time in the resource room while the other half was as a math teacher filling in for Steve Barlow who had became principal. The next year she was hired as a special education teacher, a position she held for five years. She has been a secondary math teacher since.

“I kiddingly told the seniors that I was graduating along with them. I finally get to graduate from high school,” she said laughing.

Tebo, a 1984 OFA graduate, was a substitute teacher for social studies replacing Wilbur Florin and has taught secondary social studies his entire career.

“I have been going to the city school district for 50 years,” Tebo said with a smile.

The pair have taught hundreds of students over the years, even several current school administrators including Superintendent Kevin Kendall.

“For me, I’ve not had a day at OFA, since being a student, without Mrs. Swan and Mr. Tebo being there. I congratulate them on reaching this milestone. They’ve both impacted so many lives and I know that their service and love for OFA does not end here,” Kendall said.

The 2020-21 school year has been one for the books, with mask and social distancing mandates, quarantines, as well as remote learning being implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be a school year that will not be forgotten any time soon.

“Before this, the worst thing was the ice storm. That was nothing compared to this,” Tebo said of COVID-19.

The toughest part for the two were the inability to meet with and form relationships with the students. With many students participating in remote learning, some are still strangers.

“I have students I haven’t met yet, that’s insane,” she said. “I wouldn’t even know who some of my students are, seriously. That’s sad. I mean it’s the times.”

Swan states that 50 percent of her classes are remote while Tebo says his are less than that.

“The 50 percent who are in person are split between the two cohorts so you only see 25 percent of your kids in your classroom on a given day,” Swan said.

For a while, some classes only had a student or two actually in the classroom, the rest were being taught online.

Tebo said that remote learning, while effective during the pandemic, takes out the human element.

“You create relationships and if you don’t know them they are just an icon on the screen,” he said.

Looking back on their years of service, the two said they have enjoyed the relationships they have made with students and staff at OFA.

“When you look at the 32 years, we can look at the relationships we have developed. I can go out on the streets and I can talk to former students and I am proud that they are contributing adults in the community,” she said.

While it may be hard to remember every student, especially their names, after 30-plus years of teaching, Tebo said they will often register in their memories.

“You may not remember the name, but you remember their faces — the kid in social studies or on the track team or from swimming,” he said.

Besides teaching, Swan has been a longtime yearbook, student council and Whiz Quiz advisor as well as extracurricular activities treasurer. Outside of the district, she was active for many years in Ogdensburg Youth Lacrosse and Ogdensburg Minor Hockey.

Tebo has coached various levels of indoor track for 30 years, outdoor track for 31, swimming for 13 and even coached girls soccer for a year. He was also a junior class, prom and Whiz Quiz advisor throughout his career. Tebo has also organized 5K runs for community organizations like Seaway Festival for the past 25 years.

The toughest part of retiring will be next September, when the meetings begin for the first day of school, according to the two teachers.

“I have talked to other retirees and they have said that summer is summer. It doesn’t really kick in until September when everyone is going into school and your at home having a cup of coffee or going to golf or whatever you are doing,” Tebo said.

Swan and her husband, Don, are planning on taking a vacation in early September to keep occupied as the 2021-22 school year begins.

“I will feel kind of lost that first week,” she said.

Tebo agrees.

“We have done this for 32 straight years. Thirty-two plus another 12 years of going to school since you were five and now you aren’t going to school anymore. It’s going to be a major change for us,” Tebo said.

Kendall said the two teachers bleed “blue and white” and even though they will be moving on to the next chapter of their lives, he knows they will continue to be active supporters of the school community.

“They are both going to be missed and I wish them the very best that retirement has to offer,” the superintendent said.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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