A couple of teachers (literally)

Together, Tim and Laura Hatfield have taught for 64 years in Cedar Grove- Belgium schools; now they are retiring as exemplars of dedication to teaching
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Tim Hatfield starts every school year with this question for each of his classes at Cedar Grove-Belgium Middle School: “Why do you think I teach?”

A lively discussion ensues, and then he gives the answer: “Because I want you to be a better person and be successful.”

Hatfield, a social studies teacher, said his goal is for students to “see me as somebody who cares.”

Hatfield’s wife Laura has the same theory as a teacher of English and language arts in the same school.

“Kids don’t care what you know until they know you care,” she said.

Proving that to students today is a little different than when the pair started their teaching careers more than 30 years ago.

“When I grew up, you basically trusted adults. I don’t think kids come in with that assumption anymore,” Tim said.

That’s one of many changes the couple have seen in their combined 64 years in the school district and perhaps one of the last. The Hatfields are retiring this year.

Neither comes from a family of educators, but both found their passion in teaching.

“There were teachers and coaches who made a different in my life,” Tim said, adding he wanted to have that same positive influence on children.

For Laura, “This is something that makes you feel alive.”

She loves seeing children who claim they hate reading and then, after finishing a book, ask if she has another one by the same author.

Tim is from Deforest and Laura is from Appleton, though her family is from New Jersey and she can still do the accent. The two met at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Tim’s father, who worked for Oscar Mayer, questioned his decision to be a teacher. When he saw that he was going to marry one, he claimed his son would never have any money.

After graduation, Laura found a job first in Fairchild, 30 minutes from their home. Tim got hired in Gilman, which was an hour away.

In two years, Tim got a job at Cedar Grove-Belgium. Laura started as a third-grade teacher’s aide before being hired to teach the same grade the next year.

Tim started teaching middle and high school classes in the building of combined grades.

“I like working with middle school kids. They have energy. If you can harness it, they’re fun to work with,” he said.

Laura taught second and third grade until the middle school was developed and two colleagues asked her to try that level.

“They were scary,” she said of middle school students. “When I taught third grade, I was worshipped.”

Her older pupils showed they liked her in different ways, such as one thanking her after Laura allowed a call home to mother during recess because the two had a big fight that morning.

The two teach on opposite sides of the building and don’t see each other often during the day, nor do they always agree on educational philosophy.

Tim coached high school football and wrestling for years. The family built a house in Cedar Grove big enough to host the football team for Friday night meals before games.

One thing the couple won’t miss is the paperwork teachers are now required to complete. Tim said regulations forcing him to demonstrate how he teaches almost makes him feel like he isn’t trusted.

Laura said evaluations used to include long narratives, where now they’re more like checklists.

“What happened to caring about kids?” she said.

They won’t miss today’s world of new and advanced tools either. Tim said his students know how to operate his Smart Board, an electronic replacement for a blackboard, better than he does.

“I’ve spent the last part of my career learning how to use technology,” Tim said.

Both, however, agree that technology has made life easier as well. Tim can show re-creations of epic battles through videos, providing an insight text alone could not.

Laura is thankful for Chrome books and the ability to rewrite papers without actually having to physically rewrite them.

Cell phones have been a consistent challenge, although they like the school’s policy that they have to be turned off and kept in students’ lockers after struggling with them in class years ago.

Texting can drive Laura crazy, especially given what she teaches.

“You is not spelled ‘u,’” she said, adding that her texts include capital letters and commas.

Students have embraced technology and often raced past adults in understanding it, but the Hatfields have seen another impact. Children don’t turn it off at night.

“I’ve noticed how tired some of the kids are. It’s tough to be here and learn when you’re exhausted,” Laura said.

The couple raised their two children— “I would keep the boys so they could say goodnight to daddy when he worked late,” Laura said—in Cedar Grove before moving to a condo in Kewaskum.

“It’s a blessing. We lived in a community that values education,” Tim said.

Laura lauded the attendance rate for parent-teacher conferences.

With their school careers almost behind them, the Hatfields are planning how they will enjoy their retirement. There will be a trip to Nova Scotia this summer and shorter trips on their motorcycle. They will also see their more of their six grandchildren.

Retirement, however, hasn’t quite set in yet, as they finish the final week of school.

Laura already knows what she will miss. The camaraderie among staff is so strong that one colleague wouldn’t leave her room and kept asking if Laura would be OK after a recent bout with cancer.

She said she feels good about the fact that an outstanding student teacher whom she mentored has applied to the district.

The couple said they were honored by being named two of four retiring middle school teachers chosen to speak at Sunday’s graduation ceremony.

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