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After 40 Years in Classroom, Beloit Memorial's Andre is Ready for Next Adventure

This will be a startling fact for the thousands of students who learned science from Heidi Andre at Aldrich Middle School and Beloit Memorial High School over the last 3 1/2 decades. She cried for two weeks when she was offered a teaching job in Beloit.

“I was from Iowa. I taught at this school outside of Iowa City. I loved it. I didn’t want to leave,” Andre said. Her husband, though, was working for a retail chain and they were asking him to move to their store in Rockford, Illinois.

The superintendent of her school district in Iowa had ties to Beloit, made a call on her behalf to get her an interview.

“I was the last interview of the day and the guy before me came out and they were shaking his hand, saying ‘we’ll call you tomorrow,’” she said. “I thought, ‘awesome, there is no way I am getting this job,’ so I went in and had the most relaxed interview.”

Beloit officials offered her a position the next day.

“It was the greatest thing to ever happen to me,” said Andre, who then spent the next 35 years teaching science with relentless positivity and curiosity. “I was teaching at a school that wasn’t challenging, honestly. I moved to Beloit and my whole world changed. My perspective on life and people just grew and that never would have happened to me if I’d stayed in Iowa.”

Saturday will be Andre’s last Beloit Memorial graduation. She’s retiring after 40 years in teaching, the last 35 in Beloit. Andre decided last August that this would be her final year. Her husband was ready to retire and she had teacher friends who had miserable last years because they were undecided on whether to keep going. Instead, she made her decision and has enjoyed it fully.

“We have wonderful kids here. We really do. That’s the hardest part,” Andre said. “I have an older sister who was a teacher and she said the first day of school (in the fall) when I am not here will be when it really hits me.”

Her first year in teaching was 1984. Her first year in Beloit was 1989. How long is that in science terms? Scientists have discovered nine new elements since she moved to Beloit in 1989.

She said, obviously, the technology has been the biggest change in teaching. She started out using chalkboards and had to research each lesson. She was “big stuff” in Iowa when she got a grant for a Commodore 64 for her classroom. 

Today, every classroom has a smartboard and lessons are developed around the world and shared electronically.

She said, for the most part, the kids haven’t changed.

“They want to know that you are excited about what you teach and that you are excited they are in your classroom,” she said. “That’s the core expectation of every student, whether it was 40 years ago or today.”

She said technology, though, has changed the way they think and that changed the way she had to teach.

“It used to be you’d present ideas and they’d experiment and then you’d ask them to put those together,” she said. “Now, they just Google for the answer. Getting them to think, there are different steps to it now.”

When she started, she was more excited to teach chemistry and physics. Over time, she gravitated more toward environmental science.

“I like to help the kids see the world differently,” she said. “When teaching environmental science, you have to look at the economics. You have to look at the social implications. It takes chemistry and physics and biology and puts it all together. I tell the kids, ‘I’m not trying to turn you into a tree-hugger,’ but some of them are by the time they get done with my class.”

Ironically, she’s moving back to Iowa after her last official day on June 10.

“We bought a part of my parents’ farm. They are still alive and we want to be close to them,” she said. “I’m still young enough that I want to do things. I want to see what else is out there.”

Source: Beloit Daily News