CHARLOTTESVILLE — A brood of Eastern Hancock Elementary School second-graders gathered in a jumble around their teacher, Sherry Trainor, singing and dancing an updated version of “The Skeleton Dance,” a musical anatomy lesson, during the last week of school, which also happened to be the last week of Trainor’s 40-year teaching career.
Though impossible to sum up a 40-year career in any endeavor with a single word, if one were pushed, a clear frontrunner would have to be “love.”
In her April retirement letter to EH school officials, the word “love” or some variation thereof appears four times.
As she surveys her gaggle of kids after the music dies down, she simply smiles and states with certainty how she feels about her work.
“I love this,” Trainor said.
“The way she loves kids, and the way she loves teaching,” said EH fifth-grade math teacher Dana Allen, “is what we should all aspire to.”
Allen should know.
In addition to working with Trainor now, Allen also is a former student.
“I had her as a teacher in second grade, and I loved her; I absolutely loved her,” Allen said.
That word again.
“I cried a lot when I was in kindergarten and first grade,” Allen remembers. “Like every day.”
The tears were so prevalent, it seems, that Allen’s mother had a conference with the school’s principal about what to do for Allen’s second-grade year.
Allen said her mother was told not to worry, the problem would soon be over: “She’ll have Mrs. Trainor,” Allen said her mother was told.
Though Allen can’t put a finger on any one specific thing Trainor did to alleviate her anxiety, “whatever I felt was missing she filled, and I didn’t cry anymore. She loved her kids so much.
“As a teacher, when I grow up, I want to be a teacher like Sherry Trainor,” Allen said, which is pretty high praise coming from a woman who teaches fifth-grade math, shepherds the science fair and is the school’s high-ability district coordinator.
Trainor deflects the praise and takes it all as just part of doing what a school is supposed to do to begin with.
“It’s so neat that we do enough good things here that people want to come back,” she said.
It all started when a young Anderson University graduate was trying to figure out how to make a living with an art degree.
Teaching seemed like a practical option, and Trainor pursued the path, eventually landing at Eastern Hancock and a lifelong love affair with her work.
“How lucky am I that I picked something that I loved to do. You don’t meet too many people that love their work.”
Trainor received three job offers on the same day, and the selection process was simple.
“I took the one closest to my boyfriend,” Paul, who is now her husband and the father of the couple’s two children.
Though emotions begin to bubble as she even tries to talk about leaving the classroom, Trainor said she needs a bit more flexibility in her schedule to help her parents.
She’s seen lots of changes in education over her career, some of which have been really good and others she has a few issues with.
“The best thing is that the reading instruction has improved,” Trainor said.
“Now, experts know exactly how kids read and can zero in on what they need to work on. For me, that’s been a huge learning curve.”
However, Trainor finds the current trend in education to test everything that moves “disappointing.”
“The focus on testing just breaks my heart,” she said. There’s so much pressure to test, test, test.
“We used to evaluate the whole child, to teach them how to become employees, parents, husbands, wives. Now, the time is so structured, we don’t have time to teach those things, and if we don’t instill a love of learning, we’re going to lose these kids.”
She looks over her room once again, and again the emotions brim her eyes.
“I dread Friday,” she said last week, a few days before she would close her door for the last time.
It’s been a good run, though.
“It’s a great community to work in with great parent support and darling kids, ” she said.
And it’s not like she’ll never be back.
Trainor already has several volunteer stints at the school in line for next year, and then of course, there are the people.
“Plus, these are all my very best friends here,” she said.
Though Trainor’s been herding EH kids for four decades, elementary school Principal Amanda Pyle said she has lost neither her pace nor her touch.
“She could teach another 10 years, if she wants to,” Pyle said. “She’s fabulous with the kids.”
Losing a dedicated educator with Trainor’s experience might be seen as a loss, but she is quick to counter that notion by noting the district’s deep talent pool.
“Our school is in a great position,” she said.