Debbie's story: How struggles in school inspired a 40-year career in educating

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Inspiration from experience

Debbie Goldammer remembers spending a lot of time in the hallway as a fourth-grade student.

“Every day, my teacher would tell us to copy our spelling or math from the board at the front of the room and every day I asked where it was and got sent to sit in the hall,” she recalls.

Debbie couldn’t see the board well enough to read the writing.

“For me, as a young kid, being sent to the hall made me feel like I was bad. I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong.”

Eventually, Debbie’s father noticed her poor eyesight and she got her first pair of glasses. After that, her trips to the hallway stopped.

“My teacher never took the time to see that I couldn’t see,” Debbie says.

That experience as a young child inspired Debbie to become a teacher herself.

“I became a teacher because I wanted to watch for those things,” she says. “If kids couldn’t see or couldn’t hear, I wanted to watch for that and help them.”

Debbie spent the last 40 years doing just that; she recently retired from a career teaching.

Getting started

Despite getting glasses and making the decision to become a teacher, Debbie didn’t always excel at school.

“I never really tried and focused in school,” Debbie says. “It was mainly my mom going ‘get your homework done, get your homework done.’”

It wasn’t until Debbie’s seventh-grade math teacher held her to a higher standard that she realized she could do more. When she moved into eighth grade without being placed in the advanced class, the teacher demanded a reason.

“She said, ‘you were my top student last year, you…belong in the top class,’” Debbie says.

Debbie moved to the advanced math class and experienced her second learning epiphany.

“That’s when education became important to me,” she says. “I saw it could get me someplace if I worked.”

The right emphasis

Debbie always planned to teach fourth grade—the same grade she spent so much time in the hallway—and chose elementary education for her college major.

One trip to her academic advisor’s office changed those plans—she was only a few credits from earning a minor in math.

She spent her early years teaching math to sixth-eighth graders before moving back to her hometown to teach eighth-grade math in the same classroom for the next 32 years.

“I really liked junior high kids,” she says. “They’re their own little beast—they still respect you but want to try you…there’s a lot of change happening in a short time.”

Returning home

Spending the majority of her career teaching in the community where she grew up was special, Debbie says, particularly when it came to teaching the children of former students.

“I have 100 percent of the support [of my former students],” she says. “Former students who are now parents know what I will do for my students.”

Including adding a new class to her teaching schedule.

Not long before her retirement, Debbie took over teaching a dual-credit college algebra class, allowing students to earn college math credit while in high school.

“My principal asked me three times to teach the class and I said no three times,” Debbie recalls, saying she didn’t feel qualified even though she was certified.

“The fourth time, he said, ‘You’re the only one certified to do this, this is for the kids,’ and I couldn’t say no to that.”

Debbie says she can’t count the hours she spent preparing and studying so she would be ready to teach the class. She even turned to YouTube for refreshers.

“I wanted to make sure I could teach the kids as best as possible,” she says.

Moving forward

Debbie spent the first few weeks of her retirement cleaning out her classroom, getting it ready for its next occupant. But not everything had to change: a Goldammer will still be teaching eighth-grade math at Butler High School. Her daughter, Heather, will be moving down the hall to take over her mother’s classroom and schedule.

“I spent the first few years of my career determined not to be just like my mom,” Heather says. “But along the way, I’ve found my own path and now I feel like I’m stepping into her shoes without mimicking her.”

For her mother, Heather’s choice to follow a similar path is a point of pride.

“Heather could have gone into anything she chose,” she says, “but she chose education.”

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