LINGLE – World Teachers’ Day, held annually on Oct. 5, has honored educators around the world since 1994. First-grade teacher Becky Nighswonger began her career at Lingle-Fort Laramie Elementary School just a year before, in 1993.
Nighswonger said she knew she wanted to be a teacher beginning when she was around 8 years old.
“I had a little sister who was 3 – she was my student,” she recalled. “I just remember working with numbers. I had an old school book that was my mom’s, I tried to teach her to read out of the old school book. I had a little desk.”
Nighwonger’s family moved to the area from Minnesota after her parents purchased the Torrington Telegram when she was in sixth grade.
“After high school, I did two years at Eastern Wyoming College and got my early childhood education degree from there,” Nighswonger said. “I got married, had a family, and in-between that time, opened a preschool in Morrill (Neb.) when we were farming there. From there, we moved to Torrington, and I started the preschool at Our Savior Lutheran Church. I was the first teacher there. Then in 1988, Chadron (State College) brought classes to EWC, and I started taking classes at EWC and Western Nebraska Community College. I did summer school in Chadron for three years, and got my bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Chadron in 1992.”
Nighswonger’s first job after college was at Lingle-Fort Laramie Elementary in the fall of 1993, where she’s now taught for the last 25 years.
“As kids have gone through, there are three things they ask me when they come back (to visit): One, do you still have a bathtub? Two, do you still have a guinea pig? And three, do the kids still learn about penguins?” Nighswonger said.
For much of her career, Nighswonger has used an old clawfoot bathtub to help make reading fun, allowing students to sit in the antique washbasin during reading time.
“(Students) get the guinea pig, Rudy, out and read to him; they practice math on iPads or whiteboards; sometimes they write on their desk and they think that’s just the best,” Nighswonger said. “I try to do things different as much as I can. The routine’s the same, but what we do in that routine varies.”
After a quarter-century at the helm of the same classroom, Nighswonger said there are several reasons she enjoys teaching first grade.
“I think it’s because everything seems new to them,” she said. “They’re beginning to read, they see themselves as authors because they’re writing books. Everything’s new and exciting. They’re figuring out numbers and how they work – and they’re funny.
“As you see the progress from kindergarten to second graders, it’s so obvious with first grade,” Nighswonger continued. “Everything’s so visible in first grade – how they’re progressing as learners changes so drastically from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”
Nighswonger earned the distinction of Goshen County School District No. 1 Teacher of the Year in 2006-07.
“You just have to keep at it and learn,” she said. “Ask questions of other people, rely on your colleagues, your first-grade team, and in my building, rely on the people here to help. I continue to take classes … and read a lot.
“Remember to breathe,” Nighswonger added as advice for new teachers. “Get to know the kids and their parents, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Although she isn’t sure when she’ll retire, Nighswonger said “it’s not too far down the line” as she has 10 grandchildren and “I want to be able to spend as much time with them as I can.”
Nighswonger is married to Ron, and has three children, Brady, Abby and Darby. Darby was a student in her mother’s inaugural first-grade class 25 years ago.
“In all those years, kids really haven’t changed that much in the classroom,” Nighswonger said. “Outside has changed; there are more things they’re able to do with technology, but kids still like to play. They love recess, love being able to play in the classroom, love just being able to play with their friends. They love their school, and it’s always been that way with first graders.”