Two veteran Grandview Heights teachers bow out, COVID-19 among reasons

ALAN FROMAN
afroman@thisweeknews.com
Longtime Grandview Heights Schools teachers Carmen Mendoza (left) and Susan Falk retired before the start of the 2020-21 school year. The pair are pictured Aug. 13 outside Grandview Heights High School. Both teachers have been with Grandview Heights Schools for at least 20 years and are residents of the city.

Two longtime Grandview Heights Schools teachers were not in their classroom -- virtually or otherwise -- when the district's school year opened Aug. 17.

High school/middle school Spanish teacher Carmen Mendoza and Stevenson Elementary School third-grade teacher Susan Falk both retired over the summer.

But both teachers also are longtime Grandview residents -- and neither plans to leave the city anytime soon.

Some of Mendoza's former students have told her it will be strange not to see her in the classroom, she said.

"I tell all of them I will still be working in the school garden or walking down the street in Grandview, where they have always bumped into me," she said.

"I've taught more than 2,000 students in my career," Mendoza said. "I want the students to know that I taught them the Spanish language, but I also learned so much from them, and they know this."

Her students inspired her to "do creative work," she said.

"So I not only taught Spanish and culture but also technology, like Photoshop, movie-making, art, art history, cooking and gardening," Mendoza said.

"That is the beauty of teaching another language and culture," she said. "It is an opportunity to teach everything, even table manners."

Over the years, Mendoza accompanied student groups on 15 school-sponsored trips to other countries.

"You see how that experience can change their perspective and their lives," she said. "There have been some students who decided to study abroad after taking one of these trips."

Mendoza, 67, said she "came late" to teaching.

She was inspired to pursue an education career when she was studying Spanish at Ohio State University.

Mendoza was born in Cuba, but her family immigrated to the United States in 1960, soon after Fidel Castro took power.

"I didn't want to lose the language," she said, "so when I started taking the classes at Ohio State, I also realized how much I enjoyed learning and decided teaching students would be really rewarding."

The decision to retire from teaching came after she visited the oncologist who is treating her husband, Tony, for a rare blood cancer.

"He looked me in the eye and said, 'You shouldn't be going back into the classroom, whenever that happens, given the current conditions,' " Mendoza said.

"I'm over 65 and my husband and I are both at a higher risk of contracting the COVID virus," she said. "I'm really going to miss the students and my colleagues, but I feel like it's best to be safe.

"I knew it wouldn't be long before I would be retiring anyway," she said. "This just moves it up sooner than I expected."

The Mendozas have lived in Grandview for 30 years, and both of their children -- Alex, 38, and Lydia, 31 -- attended school and graduated from Grandview.

Carmen Mendoza has taught for 23 years, 20 of them in Grandview. For 18 years, she taught at the high school only; the last two years, she spent part of each day at Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School.

"It has been a pleasure and an honor to work with such a dedicated team of teachers and staff in our schools," Mendoza said. "I will miss them all."

Falk, 59, is retiring after a 30-year teaching career, including the past 24 years at Stevenson. She has been teaching third grade for about 17 years.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic was one factor, but not the only one, that led her to retire, Falk said.

"Given the unusual times, I had to think hard about what was best for me and my family," she said. "We decided this was what was best for us."

As a student at Bluffton College (now University), Falk discovered a teaching career was best for her.

"I started out as a business major, but I found it boring and uninspiring," she said.

When she was considering other paths of study, Falk said, she began thinking about Janey Kinkley, her fourth-grade teacher in Coshocton, and the profound impact she had on her life.

"I started school early, and I was developmentally behind my peers, so I struggled learning to read and learning the alphabet," she said. "I really didn't like school very much."

But Kinkley instilled in her a confidence and desire to learn, Falk said.

"Before that, I was always nervous about school," she said. "That all changed in fourth grade."

Making a connection with a student, particularly one who is struggling, is the most rewarding part of teaching, Falk said.

Third-graders are a joy to teach, she said.

"They still love to learn, and they're excited to come to school each day," Falk said.

Her role is more than just teaching her students facts and figures, she said.

"What you're hoping to do is to inspire them to want to continue to learn as they go through school and life," Falk said.

That is perhaps a teacher's most important role, she said.

Teaching for so long in a small district such as Grandview gives a third-grade teacher a chance to more easily keep in touch with her former students as they advance through the grades, Falk said.

Each year, she has looked forward to the Senior Walk, during which graduating seniors pass through the halls of Stevenson one last time on their final day of school.

"It was so hard not to have that chance this year," Falk said.

She will miss students and her colleagues, she said.

"It's been such a privilege to work with so many dedicated teachers," Falk said. "We're like a family."

Family is an important component of her retirement plans, she said.

Both of her children -- Emily, 31, and Michael, 28 -- went through Grandview Heights Schools, and she and her husband, Tom, plan to visit Michael in Wisconsin when COVID-19 conditions allow. Emily lives in Dublin.

"Both Tom and I are retired, and we hope to do a lot of traveling," she said. "Beside that, I'm looking forward to having more time to read for pleasure, learn to play the guitar and garden."

Those are the types of endeavors that retirement is all about, Falk said.

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