The Queen of Second Grade

Judy Diekman has given her students the royal treatment for 35 years. No wonder they think she's so special.

  • Wednesday, November 24, 1999 7:00am
  • News

“They call Judy Diekman “queen.” It says so on her parking space.And when it comes to teaching second grade, few can deny Diekman’s rather royal status. This is her 35th year as a teacher at Crescent Harbor Elementary School. The school has literally grown up around her. Befitting a queen, she has a queen costume and her own chair in the teachers’ lounge. Her colleagues plan to name something after her one of these days — a tribute, they say, to someone who has devoted not only her life but her love to Oak Harbor school kids.“She’s special to us,” said Crescent Harbor Principal Don Warner. “And she’s a character to boot.”Looking back, Diekman says a lot has changed in education — kids are under more pressure, parents are busier and the idea of being a career teacher may now be a thing of the past.When Diekman first took charge of a classroom in 1965, the first space walk had just taken place, Walt Disney was announcing plans to build Disney World and the Oak Harbor School District had only about half the number of teachers it has today. Oh, and Principal Warner was still a freshman in high school.“I started in a portable,” Diekman said. “They told me I’d be there a year. I was there for seven.”Since then, according to Warner, Diekman has taught about 1,000 students, has graded about 123,000 student assignments and has hosted about 1,750 parent-teacher conferences.Diekman’s connection to Oak Harbor schools goes back further than her 35 years of teaching. She came to the city from Virginia when she was 10 years old and started fifth-grade at Clover Valley Elementary. Except for four years at Western Washington State University, she’s been in Oak Harbor schools ever since. Though retirement is on her mind these days, Diekman says the job is still rewarding. She said her desire to teach second grade goes all the way back to when she was a second-grade student herself.“I loved my second-grade teacher,” she said. Now Diekman said her love flows the other direction.“I just love the kids,” she said. “They haven’t hit the stage yet where they think they know more than you do. You see so much growth in second grade. You see success all the time.”Another term her colleagues use to describe Diekman is “laid-back.” She admits that 35 years on the job has made her “comfortable” in the classroom and her casual demeanor and relaxed speaking voice give you the impression that no matter what it is, she’s probably seen it all before.Her comfort in the classroom translates directly to the kids, said Warner. He said Diekman’s teaching style works well with all students and particularly well with special-needs kids.“There’s always enough time to be a successful learner in her classroom,” he said.“I give them a chance to be themselves,” said Diekman. “I don’t try to pigeonhole each kid.”She worries that today’s students are being hit with more and more-difficult concepts than in years past. She said they are being asked to learn a greater variety of things — sometimes at the expense of spending enough time on basics.At the same time though, Diekman said second-graders are still pretty much the same as they were 35 years ago.She can’t say the same for teachers. Teachers today are facing about five years of college, and the student debt that comes with them, just to get their certificates. Years necessary for retirement has also increased but teacher pay remains low when compared to other professions. As a result, many college students turn away from teaching as a career or drop out after a few years to pursue more lucrative jobs.Diekman said teaching has never been a job for people who want money but the brightest teachers of the future could likely be lost without better incentives. And veteran teachers, like herself, will be a thing of the past.“They’re going to have to make it more attractive moneywise,” she said.Following in her mother’s footsteps, Carrie Diekman is in her first year of teaching kindergarten at Olympic View Elementary. She said she’s not sure she’ll make it to 35 years like her mother, but said it’s possible.“She’s been a great role model,” Carrie said of mom.Diekman said this will likely be her last year as a full-time teacher, but she will probably continue to work as a substitute. She said she won’t miss the paperwork or the conferences, but she will miss the kids and her colleagues. In typical laid-back fashion, she has only a few words for new teachers.“It does get easier,” she said. “Enjoy each day. No two days are ever the same. If you have a bad day, there’s always tomorrow.””

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