Education era ends as second-grade teacher retires after 42 years

Laura Caillouet-Weiner retires this year after more than four decades teaching second grade, nearly all of them at Jefferson Elementary School. She reflects on her experience.

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Local News

May 21, 2024 - 2:57 PM

Laura Caillouet-Weiner retires this year after 42 years teaching second grade for USD 257. Nearly all of her time was spent at Jefferson Elementary School until it closed and she moved to Iola Elementary School in 2022. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Laura Caillouet-Weiner remembers walking down the hall at Jefferson Elementary School as a student teacher in the spring of 1981. Then-Principal Richard Sears stopped her and asked, “What are you going to do next fall?”

Caillouet-Weiner shrugged at the obvious question. She’d recently graduated from Emporia State University. “Get a job.”

“Second, third or fifth?” he asked. 

She’d considered none of those options. She had planned to be a home economics teacher, but the world was shifting away from traditional homemaking classes. Maybe she’d be a middle school teacher instead. Her parents thought she’d be a good elementary teacher.

A year of student teaching first-graders with Marge Norman opened her mind to the possibility of working with young children.

“They’re just starting to learn how to be independent,” she said. She enjoyed watching students blossom and discover themselves.

On that fateful afternoon, she picked second grade. 

Forty-two years later, Caillouet-Weiner said goodbye to teaching. 

Counting an average of 20 students per year, about 840 7- and 8-year-olds have passed through her classroom. For more than four decades, she’s taught them to read, write and do math. She taught philosophies and skills she hopes her students will carry with them the rest of their life: Be respectful. Be responsible. Be trustworthy. Be kind. 

A poster on the wall, “My School Pledge,” reminds students: “I am here to learn all I can, to try my best and be all I am.”

CAILLOUET-WEINER spent nearly all of her teaching years at Jefferson.

She never left second grade. She wanted to, once. Jefferson had an opening for a teacher at another grade level, and she told former Principal Ken McGuffin, “I might like to try another grade.”

“No, you’re suited for this level,” he told her.

So she stayed. And stayed.

She became part of “the Jefferson gang,” with longtime teachers such as the “Lindas” (Johnson, Garrett, Brocker), along with Vickie Tholen, Daryl Sigg and others.

Caillouet-Weiner and Sigg, also leaving this year, are the last to retire. 

“Those bonds have lasted a long time. I would trust them with my life,” she said. 

DURING HER time at Jefferson, Caillouet-Weiner was named Teacher of the Year and earned the Milken Family Foundation National Educator award for excellence in teaching in September 1998. For many years she coordinated the banquet for the annual Region 2 Teacher of the Year award. She’s also heavily involved in the Alumni Endowment Association.

Though she never left Iola schools, Caillouet-Weiner branched out in other ways. She’s traveled to educational conferences and meetings around the state and country, protecting the interest of USD 257 teachers as a union representative. 

“Being in Iola has afforded me so many other things, such as working with the teachers association from the district to the state level. I’ve learned a wealth of knowledge and made a wealth of friends.”

Again, Caillouet-Weiner points to Norman who encouraged her to join the teacher’s union. Caillouet-Weiner would go on to serve as president of the Iola National Education Association, and has served on the board of the Kansas National Education Association.

“The union is kind of like homeowner’s insurance. You need protection. You need expertise,” she said. “What’s that saying, ‘Walking on the shoulders of those who have gone before us’ to better our working conditions and retain teachers.”

It wasn’t always easy. In 2002, negotiations required the assistance of federal mediators to resolve an impasse over health insurance and the number of workdays. Negotiations later shifted to interest-based bargaining, a process based on mutual and individual interests. 

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