Caring Educator, Coach, Cancer Survivor

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, POE would like to highlight one of our employees who is a breast cancer survivor, a long-term educator and a valued member of our REP team.

Carol Mattoon began her education career in Frederick, Oklahoma by teaching 4th graders and physical education. She then went to a K-8 school teaching all subjects except math. She even coached a boys’ basketball team for seven years, with two of those years achieving an undefeated record. She finished up her last 15 years by teaching 8th grade English.

“I had always planned on being a teacher,” said Carol, who graduated from Cameron University with a double major in elementary education and physical education. “I had aunts and uncles who were teachers and by being around family members who taught, I knew teaching would be a great opportunity. As a teacher, you are a mom, a nurse, a confidant. You have the lives of young people in your hands.”

Carol is a REP for POE’s Region 3 which includes Creek, Grant, Kay, Kingfisher, Logan, Noble, Pawnee, Payne and Osage counties. She also works with our student chapters, “When I go out to the colleges to speak, I always tell them, ‘You are going to have really good days and you are going to have really bad days. However, you are going to make a difference in a person’s life. You need to care for each student as a person because you may be the only person who cares.’

“I remember looking out the window one day while I was teaching, thinking, ‘Can I come back to school tomorrow?’ Then I turned around and saw one of my young students leaving a note on my desk. She brought me a stuffed animal and left it along with the note. Then I thought, ‘Yes, I can come back.’”

Carol kept teaching for 30 years. She has former students who might be in their 50s today come up and say, “Ms. Mattoon, you were my favorite teacher.” These moments mean the world to Carol. From the “I love yous” to thank you notes to flowers, Carol still cherishes these sweet moments that make teaching worthwhile.

After retiring from teaching in 2002, Carol went to work for child welfare part-time before joining POE. She has been at POE now for seven years. She enjoys being a REP because she can still be with educators, visiting with them and helping them, whether personally or by referring them to POE’s legal department. The care she had for her students is the same care she provides POE members.

Two years after retiring from education, Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer.

As with teaching, Carol’s attitude was critical. “When you find out you have cancer, attitude is everything. Cancer was a setback in my life and it was not going to stop me. It was not going to get me down. It was not going to change my life.”

Carol knew she was going to lose her hair so she bought a couple of wigs. She was determined that chemo treatments were not going to make her sick and they didn’t. Carol was winning her battle with breast cancer. However, two years later the cancer came back. Again, she was determined not to get sick, despite going through radiation the second time.

As a two-time breast cancer survivor of 16 years, Carol’s advice to others is that you if you think something is wrong check it out. “My mammogram never showed a thing; however, I could feel a lump. I had an ultrasound and it didn’t show anything. Finally, a biopsy showed that I had cancer.”

Following her diagnosis, Carol kept going like she always has.

“I want to do anything,” Carol said. “I want to experience everything.”

In honor of Carol Mattoon (top, center) and other breast cancer survivors, POE employees participated in a Pink Out photo shoot for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Teaching: Something Much Bigger than Yourself

Teaching wasn’t Sarah Hicks first career choice, but it has become her calling. And to this day, she still wonders how she got so lucky to be a teacher. “When you are a teacher you are part of something much bigger than yourself,” Sarah said.

Watch this video of Sarah Hicks to see how a second grade teacher made her feel valued and loved, and how she aspires to make her preschoolers feel loved and valued. Sarah is a Pre K teacher in Edmond and serves as the POE State President. Sarah was studying home economics and wanted to be a professional tailor, but has been a teacher since 1982. She has bachelor’s degree is in home economics with family relations and a master’s degree in elementary education. She was National Board Certified in Early Childhood in 2006.

Biologist, Coach and Taxidermist: The Story of a Noble Bear

Noble Middle School, Home of the Noble Bears

Hal Clary, Biology Teacher, Noble Middle School

A bear reared up on his hind legs — teeth baring, claws ready — is the first thing that greets you as you enter Noble Middle School. It’s not a statue. It has real fur and actual teeth. It’s a taxidermy mount; and, it’s not alone. Continue past the snarling bear down the hallway and you will eventually reach classroom 105 on the left — a biology lab. Inside this lab, are narrow-eyed foxes, glistening waterfowl and slithering snakes all frozen in time.

Carefully sculpted and molded into realistic snap shots of nature, these taxidermy mounts offer a rare look into wild habitats in a way that textbook photos and nature films cannot. At least, that is the intention behind the mounts according to the creator Hal Clary.

Mr. Clary, a 40-year veteran of Noble Public Schools, is a biology teacher, a basketball coach of 30 years, and — if it’s not already clear — a dang-good taxidermist. As Mr. Clary explains, “Taxidermy and biology are a natural fit. It allows one to capture moments of nature, freeze them in time, and display them in lifelike ways for students to study.”

Of course, not all students like being close to the static snakes that seem to oscillate along staged tree branches or sit next to mounted snapping turtles that look as if they may reanimate at any second. But in addition to some apprehension, these mounts offer students a rare perspective into the life of organisms. They inspire students to imagine organisms living in their natural settings and to engage more deeply with the material.

Mr. Clary uses taxidermy as a tool in teaching biology.

Yet, ask Mr. Clary about the role of taxidermy in teaching biology and he will quickly tell you it’s simply a tool. Sure, it helps some students engage and can encourage interest, but it’s not the most important thing.  

“It doesn’t matter if you’re teaching Math, English, History or Science” Mr. Clary explained. “Teaching is about building relationships with students.”  

During Mr. Clary’s long tenure at Noble Public Schools, he has had the opportunity to build lasting relationships with many students. However, a few relationships in particular stick out. 

“Do you know where I can get a job?”

A student asked as he tapped Mr. Clary on the shoulder. Mr. Clary, who at the time had been teaching for just a few years, turned to see a 7th grade boy dressed in a dark T-shirt and baggie jeans looking up at him. The 7th grade student, Mark, explained that he and his mom were in trouble and on the verge of being evicted from their home. In a last-ditch effort to help his mom, Mark was doing everything in his power to find a job, including asking his new biology teacher — Mr. Clary — if he knew of any openings.

As it turned out, Mark was already too late. When the school bus dropped him off that afternoon, he found his family’s belonging piled on the front stoop. The door was locked. A single piece of yellow paper was stapled to the door: “EVICTION NOTICE.”

During the next couple of days, Mr. Clary and a few other teachers helped Mark and his mother find a place to live. Once the housing crisis was handled, Mr. Clary set his sights on Mark’s academics. Mr. Clary tutored Mark after school, helped him with homework and talked with him about personal challenges and future plans.

When summer arrived, the tutoring sessions—or at least quasi-tutoring sessions—continued. Mark would arrive at 7:30 most mornings, have breakfast at the Clary’s and then study, work or hang out with Mr. Clary until lunch.

When school started again in the fall, Mark moved onto to the 8th grade, but he didn’t forget about Mr. Clary. He continued to drop by the biology lab or Mr. Clary’s house to work on homework or just hangout.

Today, Mark is in his 40s and is still close with Mr. Clary. They speak on the phone regularly and visit in person occasionally.

“Not all relationships you build with students are like that,” Mr. Clary said. “But then again, some are.” 

A number of years later, another student in a difficult situation walked into Mr. Clary’s biology lab. Meghan was a new 7th grader. In the month leading up to the start of school, Meghan’s parents divorced. She now lived with her mother and sister in Noble.

The first semester was a difficult adjustment for Meghan. Her mother worked extended hours, money at home was tight and Meghan was the new kid at school. She was doing her best to survive. Through biology, Mr. Clary was able to connect with Meghan. He taught the course material, but he also connected with Meghan as a person.

“When you teach, you’re teaching more than just a subject,” Mr. Clary said. “You’re teaching life lessons, responsibility, how to handle and overcome adversity; you’re building relationships and helping students succeed both academically and in life.” 

At the end of the year, Mr. Clary said goodbye to his students as they prepared to leave for summer break. As is his custom, Mr. Clary told his class that if they ever needed help with anything, “Just call.”

After a few years, Mr. Clary ran into Meghan at a Noble basketball game. Meghan was a sophomore in high school. The two talked for a bit and as always, Mr. Clary reminded her to “just call” if she ever needed help.

That same night, around 10 o’clock, Meghan called the Clary home; her mother was sick and in the hospital. Meghan was alone and didn’t know what to do. Mr. and Mrs. Clary went to Meghan and prepared a place for her to stay that night.

Mr. Clary’s classroom at Noble Middle School.

Throughout the next several years, Mr. Clary and Meghan’s family grew close. Mr. Clary helped her apply for college, counseled her through difficult decisions and celebrated her achievements. Meghan began referring to Mr. Clary as her second dad.

It has been many years since 7th grade Meghan walked into Mr. Clary’s biology class, but she no longer considers Mr. Clary just one of her teachers, she considers him family. She often remarks that when the day arrives, it will Mr. Clary who walks her down the aisle to be married.

Mr. Clary loves biology, coaching and taxidermy, but more than all those things, it is clear he loves teaching. He loves building relationships with students, pouring into their lives and helping them accomplish their goals.

“Let’s say, on average,” Mr. Clary started. “130 students per year for 40 years, that’s over 5,000 students and families. If you want to make a positive impact in the lives of others, becoming a public-school teacher seems like a great way to do it.”

 * The names of students, particular dates, and specific locations have been altered for the purpose of anonymity.

Five Oklahoma Teachers Share Their Day with Us

POE is hosting “A Day in The Life of a Teacher” today, Sept. 15, in which five teachers will help transport you, virtually, to their classrooms. Educators participating in today’s live blog will share various aspects of their day from classroom layout to lunchtime to lesson planning, as well as anything else interesting they might experience. Enjoy as we post throughout the day from these teachers:

  • Jessica Dickinson – Capitol Hill High School; Virtual
  • Anne Graham – Burlington Elementary School; In Person and Distance Learning Packets
  • Anthony Hutchinson – Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools; In Person
  • Tonya Daniel – Bennington Public Schools; In Person
  • Tana Sylvester – Cyril Public Schools; In Person and Virtual

Happy Tuesday from Anne Graham.
Anne is a 1st grade teacher with Burlington Elementary School. This is the start of her day where all is peaceful and the classroom is in order. Students (no parents are allowed in the building) at 7:40 a.m. 

Students must have their temperature form filled out or meet the staff on the sidewalk to get it taken before entering the building. Buses arrive at different times, which makes the halls less crowded. In our building we have four classes – Pre-k, kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd.

Anne’s classroom at Burlington.
When students arrive, they hang up their backpacks that line the hallway.

Breakfast is distributed by the coach to students at Burlington.

In the morning when students arrive, Anne fills out a breakfast and lunch form. Her school day starts at 8 a.m. but with meals being served in the classroom and not knowing the exact time they will arrive, it makes staying on a schedule a challenge.  Our administrative assistant and boys basketball coach delivers our breakfasts every morning.

Meet Jessica Dickinson. She’s a sophomore English teacher at Capitol Hill High School.

Normally the hallways at Capitol Hill would be full of students but the photo below shows what it looks like during passing period before school. The hallway is empty since the students are studying virtually.

Jessica begins her day taking attendance online and then starts teaching class online as well.

Empty hallways at Capitol Hill High School since students attend class virtually.
Jessica begins her day by taking attendance.
Jessica teaching class from her classroom at Capitol Hill High School.

The Burlington librarian with her suitcase of books.

Back to Burlington with Anne Graham.

Every Tuesday and Friday the school librarian visits Anne Graham’s classroom with a suitcase full of books for the kids. The students each get two books to read and then take an AR (accelerated reader) test on the books. Next to our classroom’s back door there is a book return basket mounted on the wall for the librarian to collect returned books.

Anne’s classroom library has at least 700 books for students to read. All my books are labeled with AR levels, points, and test numbers.

Here are a few of the 700 books Burlington 1st graders can read in Anne’s class.
A classroom book return basket makes it easy for the librarian to collect returned books.

Anthony Hutchinson

Anthony Hutchinson arrives at Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma.

Upon entering the building, Anthony has his temperature checked. Once cleared he heads to his classroom to prepare for a day of teaching instrumental music to students in grades 6-12.

He has taught in both private and public schools since receiving his Music Education degree from Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri in 1979. He has been in the Chouteau-Mazie School District for the past 15 years.

Anthony Hutchinson getting his temperature checked prior to entering the school building at Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools.
Anthony gets ready for a day of teaching instrumental music.
The band room at Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools.

Anthony prepares for third hour.

Anthony Hutchinson conducting music class.

Before lunchtime, Anne Graham works with small groups for her reading block where she uses the phonics curriculum Pathways to Reading. Anne is pictured reading to students at a half moon table, implementing safety precautions with cardboard dividers.

Jessica Dickinson brags on Capitol Hill’s cafeteria workers: “Our cafeteria workers do a wonderful job caring for our students. Students can pick up food in front of the cafeteria.”

Meet Tonya Daniel, a special education teacher for grades 7-12 with Bennington Public Schools.

Teachers have such giving hearts and during Tonya’s prep period today, she donated blood. “I learned that they (Oklahoma Blood Institute) get the vast majority of their donations from schools! “

Please donate if you’re able. Visit for more information.

Anthony Hutchinson has lunch duty in the parking lot today. “Fortunately, it is nice outside,” Anthony said.

Tonya Daniel (right) is on lunch duty at Bennington Public Schools with co-worker, Shelly Anteau who is also a POE member.

At Burlington, lunch arrived today at 11:11 a.m. While eating lunch, students in Anne Graham’s class rotate daily between watching nature videos and Spirit on Netflix.

It is now afternoon and it’s back to band practice for Anthony Hutchinson.

From sharing a music video with students in his 5k music class (left) to directing the high school marching band, Anthony demonstrates the important value of music in life, no matter what age.

Music class continues, but this time the students in Anne Graham’s class are learning about percussion instruments. While the students are in music class, Anne takes time for her planning period.  

Tana Sylvester is with Cyril Public Schools. Standing in front of a banner at school that says, “I Can…I Will,” seems most appropriate for Tana as she is teaching in-person and virtually.

In the video below, Tana sings a song with her Pre-K students and then goes over a lesson on chores. The video camera is connected online so students can attend virtually along with their fellow students who are in person.

Thank you to our teachers who participated in “A Day in the Life of the Teacher.” We appreciate the time you took to share a glimpse into your classrooms, showing us what education looks like in 2020.

A Day in the Life of a Teacher

On Tuesday, Sept. 15, POE takes a behind the curtain view of what education looks like in 2020

Depending on where you live in Oklahoma, school has been in session anywhere from a week to a month. And on Tuesday, Sept. 15, POE is hosting “A Day in The Life of a Teacher” in which five teachers will help transport you, virtually, to their classrooms. Educators participating in “A Day in The Life of a Teacher” will share various aspects of their day from classroom layout to lunchtime to lesson planning, as well as anything else interesting they might experience.

These five teachers are members of Professional Oklahoma Educators and will share what their day looks like at school:

Jessica Dickinson – Capitol Hill High School; Virtual
Jessica is a sophomore English teacher from Capitol Hill High School with Oklahoma City Public Schools. This is Jessica’s fifth year of teaching, all at Capitol Hill. Jessica is currently pursuing her Master’s in Learning Sciences degree from the University of Oklahoma.

Tonya Daniel – Bennington Public Schools; In Person
Tonya is a special education teacher for grades 7-12 with Bennington Public Schools. She has taught English for 18 years. This is her third year in Special Education for a total of 21 years in the classroom. Tonya is teaching in person. She has been married to her husband David for seven years. They have a son, Phillip, and daughter-in-law, Ashley, along with two paw babies named Ariel and Shortcake.

Anthony Hutchinson – Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools; In Person
Anthony teaches instrumental music (band) for students in grades 6-12. He also teaches K5 music. Mr. Hutchinson has taught in both private and public schools since receiving his Music Education degree from Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri in 1979. He has been in the Chouteau-Mazie School District the past 15 years and thoroughly enjoys working with administration, teachers, students and the community.

Anne Graham – Burlington Elementary School; In Person and Distance Learning Packets
Anne is a 1st grade teacher at Burlington Elementary School, a very small, rural school with approximately 130 students in the entire district. She has nine students doing in-class/traditional learning and one student who participates in distance learning. This is Anne’s 12th year of teaching. 

Tana Sylvester – Cyril Public Schools; In Person and Virtual
Tana is a veteran teacher of 33 years, having taught kindergarten through sixth grade in her career. She taught at Sterling Public Schools for 26 years and has been at Cyril Public Schools for seven years, where she currently teaches Pre-K. She has a daughter and son, and four grandchildren.

“With the start of school changing weekly – whether in-person, virtual or hybrid – teachers participating in a focus group with Professional Oklahoma Educators wanted to show teachers as flexible, resilient individuals who love what they do,” said Ginger Tinney, executive director of Professional Oklahoma Educators. “The idea for chronicling educators throughout the day is a result of the teacher focus group wanting to show positive stories from the classroom.”

The teachers’ experiences will be posted throughout the day on