Bonne chance: Longtime IHS French, English teacher retires

After more than 50 years of teaching — the last 21 at Iola High School — Virginia Crane is retiring. She calls Iola "the best place to end my career."

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Local News

May 16, 2024 - 2:36 PM

Virginia Crane is retiring after teaching since 1967. She has taught French and English classes at Iola High School since 2003. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Virginia Crane isn’t sure what she will do without a classroom when the school year ends Friday. She’s been teaching for 57 years.

“I’m near tears every time anybody says retirement,” Crane said. 

By the time Crane came to Iola High School in 2003, she already had a lengthy teaching career. At that time, she had taught for 21 years at Altoona-Midway and was eligible for the Kansas Public Employees Retirement Plan. KPERS rules at the time required her to switch districts if she wanted to continue to teach. 

Iola was “the best of all schools, the best choice. It was perfect,” she said.

Perfect, even though her first classroom — across the hall from Room 203 where she most recently taught — had no windows. “So I filled it with color in other ways.”

Perfect, even though she was expected to teach both French and English — and she had little experience teaching English.

“I’ve enjoyed small schools. You have to be resourceful. They ask you to do things even if you have no experience. I coached debate and forensics. I directed plays. I taught yearbook for seven years,” she recalled. “Proms. Oh my gosh, proms. How many proms? At Altoona-Midway, they allowed kids to choose their prom sponsor.”

Crane grew up in Lawrence and attended school at what was, at the time, the state’s largest high school. Her teaching career began with the 1967-68 school year. Her husband worked with the highway patrol and they moved quite a bit in the early years, so she taught at several small schools. Eventually, they would settle in Chanute. 

When she first started teaching, schools didn’t offer female sports teams. When she first came to Iola, the girls basketball team had a male coach. The team qualified for state and needed a woman to chaperone, so Crane joined them.

“That doesn’t happen in big schools,” she said. “I got to participate in all these things. It’s been a good career. It has stretched me in many ways and I’ve made lasting friendships.”

CRANE’S desire to teach French began back in elementary school.

Sputnik 1, the first Earth satellite, was launched into orbit by the Soviet Union in 1957, sparking the Space Race with the United States. Everyone demanded more science and foreign language classes, and Crane’s school hired teachers for French, German and Spanish. She started to study French in fifth grade and continued through high school.

“Madame was just wonderful. She was such an inspiration,” Crane said.

Then came college at the University of Kansas.

“I wanted to be a French teacher, so I was for many years. It became clear at a small school, I wasn’t going to be able to teach French all day. There weren’t that many students,” she said. 

Districts paid tuition so Crane could get a license to teach speech. She earned a master’s degree in English.

“I’ve always felt a little like an imposter because I never took those training classes,” she said. “But I learned from my mistakes. I think that’s the best way.”

As time passed, fewer students were interested in learning French. Crane considered retirement. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Then there were the two mask years and it seemed the worst time to turn my back on my students.”

At the age of 77, Crane still wants to teach. 

“All my rhythms are school rhythms. All my friends are school friends. Janitors take care of things. Someone else cooks the food. And the kids are just the best,” she said.

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