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Family of teachers closing books on careers

March 18, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

Education is sure to dominate the conversation at a Woodring clan gathering.

The four Woodring brothers and their wives have worked in the educational system for a combined 218 years. Six family members still work in or have retired from Washington County schools.

When the Woodrings started teaching, they said, kindergarten was optional and principals still wielded the paddle.

Frank and Suanne Woodring's Fairplay dining room was like a teacher's lounge on a recent March morning when most of the clan gathered around the breakfast table to discuss the family's chosen career.

"There's a lot of people out there who know the name 'Woodring' in teaching," said Frank Woodring, 59.

"They know who you are," Suanne Woodring added, "even if you don't recognize them."

Frank resigned in 1994 from his 24-year job as an English, history and journalism teacher at Heritage Academy in Hagerstown to focus on his work as publisher of the "Maryland Cracker Barrel" historic magazine.

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Suanne, 55, retired last July from a 31-year career as a teacher in Washington County. She spent the last six years of her career as a Project Challenge teacher at Clear Spring and Hickory elementary schools.

With thousands of former students and many contacts in the community from their years of teaching, the couple said, they rarely get a recess from recognition.

Even 3,000 miles from home.

Frank and Suanne were once vacationing at a campground in California when they ran into a former student.

Lee and Suzanne Woodring of Waynesboro, Pa., constantly encounter students, former students and school-related acquaintances in the community and beyond, they said.

Lee, 57, retired in September 2001 after teaching social studies and coaching at Smithsburg High School for 34 years. Suzanne started teaching in Washington County 30 years ago and still teaches fifth grade at Smithsburg Elementary School.

They were once approached by a former student at Disney World in Florida.

"No matter where you are, you're bound to run into somebody," said sister-in-law Carole Woodring of Hagerstown. "There are no quick trips."

Her husband, Deane Woodring, 55, retired in January after 34 years as a teacher in Washington County. He spent the last 32 years of his career teaching history and psychology at Boonsboro High School.

Carole, 59, works part-time as a secretary at Pangborn Elementary School.

They expect extended trips to the supermarket and shopping mall, Carole said, because her husband usually runs into at least one of his scores of former students. He didn't even make it through a vacation in Williamsburg, Va., unrecognized, she said.

Deane, who still gets called "Mr. Woodring" by some of his former students now working at the bank where he's employed part-time in the mailroom, said he doesn't really mind the interruptions.

"It's nice to hear about kids you had previously who have become successful," he said.

Recognition can lead to comical confusion when the Woodrings are out together, they said.

Like the time the family dined at a local restaurant when oldest sibling Richard Woodring and his wife, Barbara, were in town.

Richard, 61, is a program specialist for nontraditional continuing education at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Barbara is a professor in the nursing school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. They have a combined 61 years in the education business.

As they exited the restaurant, the four male Woodring teachers all turned in response to a former student's "Good-bye, Mr. Woodring," Suanne said, laughing.

The women aren't exempt from mix-ups, either.

Suzanne once signed up for a summer workshop but Suanne was mailed all the information about it, she said.

Suanne and Suzanne said they chose teaching as a career mainly because it seemed the most attractive of the limited career options for women in the 1960s. Their husbands picked teaching for different reasons.

Frank followed his wife into the profession, in part, so they would have the same vacation time, he said. Lee, who now works at his son's construction business, saw teaching as a "way to stay close to sports," he said.

Younger brother Deane can't pinpoint one reason for his decision to become an educator, he said.

"I'm not sure if in the back of my mind it was because I saw my brothers doing it," he said.

Regardless of why they chose to become teachers, the Woodrings said, they reaped many rewards from their choice. The work hours allowed them time to spend with their own children, they said, and their classroom work gave them countless joyful hours with thousands of interesting young people.

"I still have a lot of fun with my kids," Suzanne said.

The Woodrings were less eager to publicly discuss some of the reasons they started looking forward to retirement within the last five years. In sum, they gave low grades to mandatory testing and overbearing administrators."We've lost the focus on kids. They're not looked at as individuals anymore, just test scores," Deane said. "I know for me when it was time to go, it was time to go."

The next generation of Woodrings will not continue the family teaching tradition. Of the 10 Woodring children, only Deane and Carole Woodring's son has chosen education as a career.

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