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A Teacher’s Century: 99-year-old MA Educator Reflects

PHOTO: Kay Roberts, 99, here attending the NEA’s Representative Assembly this summer, has represented the Massachusetts Teachers Association at the gatherings for more than 60 years. She's been teaching or helping students since 1937. Courtesy NEA.
PHOTO: Kay Roberts, 99, here attending the NEA’s Representative Assembly this summer, has represented the Massachusetts Teachers Association at the gatherings for more than 60 years. She's been teaching or helping students since 1937. Courtesy NEA.
September 25, 2013

RAYNHAM, Mass. - Kay Roberts turned 99 this month, and the Raynham resident is still helping students in the public schools and representing the Massachusetts Teachers Association at the National Education Association's gatherings.

Her first job as a teacher, in 1937, was in a one-room schoolhouse in Wilton, Vt., where she taught about 32 students in grades 1 through 8. She said things were a bit different then for a single teacher.

"Teachers could not get married when I first taught," she said. "If you did get married - and when I did - you could have the same work and everything, but you were classified as a 'permanent substitute.' "

That meant Roberts made $22 a week, with no holiday pay or sick leave.

She retired formally in the 1980s but hasn't stopped helping students and teachers. She said she feels that some of today's teachers don't get enough respect, but encouraged anyone considering a career as an educator to "go after it."

Many teachers today have to spend their own money for classroom supplies that strapped school districts can't afford. Roberts did that in 1937, but said it hasn't always been that way.

"There was a time when they really didn't have to do it, but I'm sure some of them did, just because they wanted to help a certain child or a certain group of children," she said. "It just seems to be second nature for most teachers to want to do that."

Roberts volunteers in schools, donning a "Cat in the Hat" costume to talk about reading to elementary students in Raynham, where she says teachers are well regarded - but not so much in other places.

"In some places, they're not always treated that well," she said. "And it's not right, because we're well-educated, we work hard, we're willing to take extra courses to keep up with everything, and there shouldn't be that feeling that there sometimes is."

Roberts dispensed some advice to rookie teachers:

"Treat all the children the same. If you have a child that's a problem, find out why he has it and, if you handle it rightly, you can do a lot to encourage him or her."

The tireless Roberts is president of the Raynham Historical Society, chairs the Council on Aging, sits on two other boards and volunteers at the Raynham Food Basket.

See her at this past summer’s NEA meeting at youtube.com.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA