With a microphone in hand, Maplewood second-grade teacher Clint Patton speaks in a soft, even voice: “Laser beam eyes. Power position.”
Immediately, Patton’s class of 7- and 8-year-olds are sitting upright, their eyes locked on him.
“Where are we going?” Patton asks students.
“To infinity and beyond,” responds the class, echoing the Buzz Lightyear catch phrase made popular in the Toy Story movie franchise. Patton said the refrain is the theme of his class.
Starting his 40th year in the Puyallup School District — 21 of those years as a first- or second-grade teacher at Maplewood — Patton said he is always striving to “create productive citizens” out of students and to motivate them to aspire to greatness.
“I feel like a motivational speaker,” he said.
He said he believes first and second grade is the best time in a child’s schooling to instill good, moral values and a lifelong love for learning.
“I want to give students a great foundation to learning,” Patton added. “It makes a huge difference before the age of 9.”
Patton — along with his wife, Patti, a second-grade teacher at Fruitland Elementary — will retire in June.
Retiring with him from Maplewood is first-grade teacher Anne Roff. She is completing her 37th year in the Puyallup School District — and at Maplewood.
The Pattons and Roff will be among 46 retiring teachers from the district this year.
Roff’s children and grandchildren are inspiring her to retire. She has a daughter and grandson in Tacoma. A second daughter lives in Tennessee, and her son is in medical school in Missouri.
“My mother is healthy enough to travel,” Roff said. “(During retirement), I will probably volunteer at Maplewood and at my grandson’s school in Tacoma.”
Patton also hopes retirement will provide more flexibility to visit with his children and grandchildren. He plans to substitute and volunteer.
Roff has enjoyed her 37 years at Maplewood.
“I like the small school community,” she said. “It’s just phenomenal.”
What Roff loves most about teaching is the children: observing their growth and receiving their hugs and smiles over the years.
“Watching them to grow into readers, mathematicians and writers — it’s fun, it’s exciting,” Roff said. “I know some of my students are doctors, lawyers, and moms and dads. For 180 days, I helped them to become contributors to society.”
Roff and Patton are like-minded in an approach to treat each student as an individual learner.
“Each student is different,” Roff said. “I want every child to feel important and to know that someone really cares for them.”
Patton said he always introduces himself to students and to their parents. At the beginning of the year, he sends an introductory letter to parents, describing his approach to teaching and his professional background.
Beyond academics, Patton said he stresses the importance of learning about the world outside the four walls of the classroom and being good stewards of the environment. His class rules are respect yourself, others and your school.
Roff and Patton said that despite the many changes in their profession, teaching is still a noble calling, and the need for educators is still high. Roff said those starting in teaching today need to be team players.
“Contribute to the team and also put that extra effort in to connecting with staff, parents and students,” Roff explained.
Patton said the profession is in need of great people.
“(Teachers) need to remember each child as an individual,” Patton said. “It’s not an assembly line. Children learn at different rates and styles.”
The staff at Maplewood plan to host a retirement party and open house for Roff and Patton from 4-6 p.m. June 4 in the school gymnasium.