Maura Dervan is retiring. After a half century of teaching young children, she is hanging up her charts and chalkboards and moving into life without a classroom. And yes, you read that correctly, she has been teaching professionally for over 50 years. However, her influence on thousands of student minds and spirits is incalculable.
Dervan’s career journey began on a farm in western Ireland. She was born at the beginning of World War II and is the oldest of nine children, seven of whom are still living. She remembers the farm as a busy place with chickens, ducks, sheep, cattle and horses. Work horses helped till the land, as they didn’t have a tractor. They weren’t saddle horses but she and her siblings rode them anyway —Bareback, of course.
She remembers that there was lots of space for the kids to roam and play and that there was fresh milk and homemade bread every day. All had chores to do and every morning before school Maura got up to milk the cows with her bucket. Electricity didn’t come to the farm until she was in her early teens.
Maura and her siblings attended a school with only two teachers and an attendance of 60-70 students. The female teacher taught the “Infants” category of children from the ages of kindergarten through second grade. The male teacher taught students from the third to seventh grade.
After seventh grade, there were boarding schools for a fee but no free education until the 1960s. Maura attended a secondary boarding school 30 miles away near Galway. She came home only on holidays and summers when she worked haying on the farm.
Her boarding school was a five-year high school with ocean views and very lofty standards for its students. She thrived on the environment and thus was born a love for learning that led her to reject a nursing career and chose a career in education.
Immediately after graduation from high school, she began elementary school teaching as a teenager in Ireland and then moved to England where she taught Latin. No teaching certificate was necessary. During her time there she went to school at night and received a diploma in the Montessori method of education.
In the mid-1960s the United States had a teacher shortage. Dervan and a friend applied to come across the pond and teach. She was interviewed and accepted to work at the USA Providence Child Center in Portland. The company issued her a two-year contract and paid her airfare from Dublin. She flew into Boston, visited family and then flew to Portland where she initially earned the sum of $250 plus board per month.
Eventually, she moved to Eugene where she continued teaching at a Montessori School but attended night classes and summer sessions at the University of Oregon. In 1989 after completing her
Bachelor’s, Master’s and Oregon Teaching Certificate, she came to work at Bohemia Elementary School where she’s been ever since.
At Bohemia, Maura daily teaches two sessions of kindergarten. “I like teaching younger students,” she says. “They’re such a joy. They’re innocent and delightful, like little sponges.”
Her busy classroom is a kaleidoscope of activities but the chaos of the classroom doesn’t bother her. “I thrive on it,” she says, and slyly confides that she’s a little hyper herself.
Paperwork is the least favorite part of her job but she loves parent conferences. “Parents want the best for their children, no matter what. Conferences with them are really exciting. It is a joy to see parents delighted in seeing their children’s progress.”
Her advice to parents of preschoolers is to read to them and expose them to letters and numbers. She also stresses that young children need to learn social skills if they are to successfully get along with others in or out of class.
Maura’s personal mantra is similar to what she teaches in the classroom. “I like to concentrate on the positive and vivaciousness of life; to explore and continue to acquire knowledge … remembering that it is a process no matter what stumbling blocks one meets along the way.’
Jean Harris who taught next to her for nine years said, “She is matter of fact, down to earth and can teach up a storm. My own children still have the clay and stitching projects that they made. An amazing woman!”
Another teacher, Kristi Geisler said that Dervan “has a kind spirit and does such wonderful things with her 'Kinders.' She will be greatly missed and I hope she visits and volunteers in the future.”
A custodian for her classroom, Ruth Dusky-Price wrote, “I have MANY times seen her here late, always saying, ‘Just one more thing and then I’m going. An hour later she is still ‘going.’”
Jan Settlemeyer co-teaches with Maura and suggested this article. She noted that “Maura is a wonderful teacher; a simple and humble person and the staff wants to help her celebrate this milestone.”
Retirement will not be boring for this Irish lassie. She is an avid sports fan with season tickets to both Duck basketball and football games. She loves to travel and is contemplating a trip to Australia where she has always wanted to visit. A favorite summer destination is Canada where “they can make tea with boiling water!” she laughs.
She will miss the excitement of the first day of school and the children’s little faces and the interaction with her colleagues but she has no regrets as she quotes Ellen Goodman on retirement:
“There’s a trick to a graceful exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over — and to let go … It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry; that we are moving on rather than out.”
Tomorrow, June third, Bohemia will celebrate Maura Dervan Day. June 10 her students’ parents will be invited to one final time of classroom sharing and singing. Soon she will exit this teaching cycle of life and enter a new one. There, Ms Dervan says, “I am looking forward to riding a bicycle and enjoying the daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze … every spring.”