Cindy Deutsch has taught kindergarten in Wichita for more than three decades.
Every year during the last half-hour of school, before her students explode out the door and launch into summer vacation, she walks around her classroom and addresses each student.
“I say, ‘I love you, Gavin.’ … ‘I will always love you, Tasia.’ I go around the room and I say ‘I love you’ to every one of them,” Deutsch says.
She did it again this week at Minneha Elementary, saying goodbye to Marc and Paulina and Tavion and Zoey. On Wednesday afternoon, there was just enough time between the kindergarten graduation ceremony and the afternoon bell for Deutsch to make her rounds and tell the kids how much they mean to her.
“There’s not a child who doesn’t look at me and listen the whole time,” she said. “I say, ‘I will always love you. That will never, ever change. I always want you to do well, and I want you to go to college.’
“They’re always in my heart. And even my most challenging ones, they cry, and I think, ‘Wow, we’ve kind of had some hard times, but you’re crying. You really do care.’ ”
This year, 10 Wichita public school students were named semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship, one of the most prestigious honors a high school senior can receive. Two of them had Deutsch as their kindergarten teacher.
That’s an impressive ratio, I tell her – 20 percent of Wichita’s National Merit scholars? She laughs, then throws the compliment back to the children and their parents.
“Such great kids,” she said. “Awesome families.”
Deutsch teaches reading, writing and math. But she also teaches about trust, forgiveness and integrity.
She encourages her students to dream big. She interviews each student, asking what they want to be when they grow up. Then she writes those dreams down and reads them aloud during an end-of-the-year ceremony in Minneha’s multipurpose room. Parents laugh and take pictures or video.
Memphis wants to be a police officer “that takes bad guys to jail,” Deutsch says. “When they wake up in their cages, she will give them scrambled eggs.”
Jhasson dreams of being a baker who makes “strawberry cupcakes with red, blue and purple sprinkles.”
Emberly wants to train ponies. Elijah wants to sell Power Wheels and Legos. Vance wants to be a soldier “who puts handcuffs on pirates.” Alan dreams of driving a bus.
Haylee wants to be a nurse “who checks people’s heart with a telescope.”
There’s a lot of talk these days about plummeting morale among Kansas educators, and a teacher shortage could mean big trouble for the state in coming years.
Whenever another school year ends, I think about people like Deutsch and others – including so many teachers in my own children’s lives – who carry on despite challenges and set the course for children’s lives.
I think of Ms. Vialpando, my kindergarten teacher, who inspired my lifelong love of reading, and Ms. Yeager, my 10th-grade English teacher, who urged me to become a writer. I think of the middle-school teacher who introduced my daughter to Shakespeare, and of my son’s amazing calculus teacher.
During a recent concert on the lawn of East High School, seniors encircled their band director for a group hug, several of them tearful about saying goodbye to a teacher who had meant so much. At least one said she plans to study music education in college because of her high school band experience.
So it’s no wonder that Minneha kindergartner Emily Caro-Alcantar, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, answered simply and specifically:
“A teacher like Mrs. Deutsch.”