“Late in August, it’s going to hit me that I’m not going back,” Meyer said of retiring from the Solon Community School District in May after 37 years of teaching local kids.
Meyer, 60, spent all but one of her 38 years in education in the Solon district.
A native of the Solon/Iowa City area, she attended country school for a few years before she and a relative were moved to the Solon district by their respective parents.
After graduating, she went to Kirkwood Community College, working summers at the Solon State Bank, then attended the University of Northern Iowa where she received a BA in elementary education.
She spent her first year teaching first grade at Holy Family (now All Saints Catholic School) in Davenport, but needed to move closer to home because a budding romance had blossomed into marriage.
Joette had started dating Jim Meyer after college, although they’d known each other since elementary school, and they married in September of 1974.
Since Jim was working a factory job in Cedar Rapids as well as farming, “I really had to come back this way and find a job,” she said.
After several interviews, the Solon district offered her a position teaching third grade.
And that was that.
Meyer spent 11 years as a third grade educator before switching to kindergarten, where she stayed for the next 26 years.
“I had wanted lower elementary, anywhere from kindergarten to third, and that wish came true,” she noted.
“People ask me which (grade) I liked best, but I couldn’t say,” she observed. They were all wonderful.”
When her career at Solon began, the early elementary grades were housed in what is currently the Solon Middle School. “My room was right next to the band room,” she recalled. “It was kind of difficult.”
The following year all of the elementary grades were combined at the Lakeview building, and that’s where she stayed.
She served under seven different principals, watched technology change the classroom, but the biggest change, she said, has been the assessment of student achievement.
“You spend a lot of valuable academic time trying to assess children,” she said of modern public education. Schools are now assessment-and data-driven without any additional financial backing and that requires teachers to take time out of the regular school schedule.
But despite those changes, and the stresses of budget cuts, the Solon district remained a comfortable place for teachers and students.
“I had the love and support of parents from day one,” she said. “Respect, too.”
As time passed, and she began teaching the children of former students, grandparents would come in to maintain the generational ties. “It seemed like a big family,” she added. “My family.”
The seed for becoming a teacher was planted by Meyer’s Aunt Dorothy, who thought she worked well with children. She babysat in high school, but didn’t really know what she wanted to do with her life. “A four-year college scared me to death,” she remembered.
Two high school instructors– Patricia Van Tuyl and Ron Herdliska– nudged her along to the idea of attending Kirkwood.
And she’s never regretted the decision.
“Working one-on-one with them to see how they’d grown from your teaching, that was wonderful,” Meyer said. The personal interaction in a small group setting– wonderful. “They were like little sponges, soaking up that learning,” she added. Every aspect had its little joys.
“This community is just an incredible place to work,” she stated. Parents provide support, they give you respect, they believe in you. “You want parents to feel comfortable so we can help your child learn and grow,” she summarized.
On her final work day as a teacher, after students had already started their summers, there was one last hurrah.
“For years, as my friends retired, I told Jim and my friends that I wanted to ride away from school in a limo.” It had been a joke, but one that was about to be pulled on her.
Her friends and co-workers had plotted with her husband, and they informed her to be ready and done with work at 3 p.m. that last teacher work day.
“To tell you the truth, I was scared,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what they had in mind.”
As they escorted her out of the building, a long black limousine was waiting for her in the Lakeview drive, with chauffeur Dolfi Kalm ready to serenade.
“I had a beautiful send-off,” she concluded.