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Elementary teachers Joyce Swett, left, Linda Reberdito, center, and Margaret Wier pose at David Glasgow Farragut Elementary School at Naval Station Rota, Spain. The three teachers retired Friday after a collective 100 years of teaching.
Elementary teachers Joyce Swett, left, Linda Reberdito, center, and Margaret Wier pose at David Glasgow Farragut Elementary School at Naval Station Rota, Spain. The three teachers retired Friday after a collective 100 years of teaching. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)

NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — When classes ended Friday at David Glasgow Farragut Elementary School, it signaled the end of the year and the beginning of summer for children.

But the final bell also marked the end of three teaching careers in Rota with a combined 111 years of service in the classroom.

Joyce Swett, Margaret Wier and Linda Reberdito taught their final class Friday. All three are retiring after more than three decades each of teaching. They have mixed emotions about leaving after so many years but acknowledged that it is time they walked away and tried something new.

“I’ll miss my job,” Wier said. “I love my job. But it’s, you know, … time for a change, and I have to decide what I want to do when I grow up.”

While most pupils are looking forward to summer break, dozens of teachers at military base schools across Europe are saying goodbye to their schools forever.

Some are leaving with mixed emotions. Swett, Wier and Reberdito are looking forward to doing something different or nothing at all, but they will miss their colleagues and, most of all, the children.

They reflected on their long careers and talked about it before they took down their bulletin boards one last time.

Much has changed since the three, who are good friends, put together their first lesson plan.

For example, they didn’t have carpeting in the classrooms, air conditioning, VCRs or computers. Chalkboards and chalk ruled rather than wipe boards and colored markers. And instead of Xerox copies, they used “ditto machines” that cranked out smelly purple-and-pink work sheets.

“Your hands were always purple,” Reberdito said. “And the kids were always sniffing the paper. But they always worked. Copies machines don’t.”

Children have changed, too.

They’re more technology savvy and worldly because of computers and satellite TV, the teachers said. But families and society have also protected pupils to the point that many children can’t make good judgments on their own.

“They live in a world where a lot of things are done for them,” Swett said. “They don’t have the opportunities to go out into the streets and play on their own unsupervised.”

Discipline problems really haven’t changed that much. But the parents’ attitudes have. Teachers don’t wield the same power they did more than three decades ago, and the rise of the single-parent home has added to a growing curriculum.

“Teachers used to be one step below God,” Reberdito added. “Now, they’re lower on the ladder.”

All of the changes have made the job tougher and more demanding and challenging, but they said teaching elementary pupils has always been rewarding.

“When kids come back all grown up with careers and come back with their children, it’s very gratifying,” Reberdito said.

While they might not remember the names of all their pupils, the teachers remember the faces and the moments.

Swett estimates that she has taught 900 pupils in her career. Wier figures she had more than that because she also taught high school. All three praised the Defense Department school system for giving them the opportunity to live overseas.

Swett knew she wanted to teach in Europe after she made a trip here with two friends.

“My soul, I know, found its home,” she said.

Since then, she has taught in Germany and Okinawa in addition to Rota.

Reberdito said one of the best things about teaching in the Defense Department system is the staff. Her teacher friends in New York, where she used to work, often tell her, “You teach in paradise.”

“Besides being colleagues, we’re family,” she said.

That is one of the reasons why retiring is bittersweet. Swett is going to live in Norfolk, Va. Wier is going to live part time in Spain and the rest of the time in the United States. Reberdito also is going to split time between the States and Rota. Their first priority: rest.

However, they expect this fall, when classes resume, to be the hardest.

For the first time in a long time, the teachers don’t know what they are going to do at the end of summer. When school starts, all three are planning to be far away from campus because it will be tough emotionally.

“It’s going to be a very strange feeling,” Swett said.

“But,” Wier said, “it’s time for a new generation.”

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