Cache Educator Chooses Teaching Over Practicing Law

May 17 is National Graduation Tassel Day and POE celebrates Oklahoma’s graduating seniors, as well as the many sponsors like Arletta Stewart who help coordinate graduation and baccalaureate ceremonies.

For the past 10 years, Mrs. Stewart has been making sure the seniors at Cache High School experience a memorable graduation.

“I love watching the students graduate, but a lot of work happens behind the scenes to ensure things run smoothly,” Mrs. Stewart said. “I am the liaison between the students and Jostens for their caps, gowns and announcements. I help with the programs and make sure each student has the correct symbols for their awards. I also double check the senior panel to match up each student’s name with their respective photograph.

“And don’t forget practice,” Mrs. Stewart said. “We practice for both processions.”

Mrs. Stewart considers it a source of pride to have so many graduations under her belt, despite working evenings and weekends on these special events. “I want them to get the recognition they deserve,” she said.

“When students ask me why I went into teaching I say, ‘I’d rather make a difference in your life in the classroom than in the courtroom.’”

arletta Stewart

Speaking of recognition, the faculty at Cache High School recently surprised Mrs. Stewart with a shadow box of the tassels she has collected throughout the years. 2022 marks her 11th year as a graduation sponsor so she’ll soon be making room in her shadow box for tassel No. 11.

Known as Momma Stu among many of Cache’s 133 graduating seniors, she’ll tell you she is blessed to be a teacher and graduation sponsor. She finds teaching to be an incredibly fulfilling career. However, she has not always enjoyed going to work.

Mrs. Stewart obtained her law degree from the University of Oklahoma Law School, and began her career as a lawyer. She loves the study of law and taught business law as an adjunct professor, but doesn’t love the practice of law.

The lawyer turned teacher became alternatively certified in 2006. During her 16 years in education, she has taught U.S. history, mythology and world history. She has served as the curriculum team leader for the social studies department, served as history club sponsor, coached the academic team, and was the gift and talented sponsor.

Sixteen years, 1,600 students and maybe 200 recommendation letters later, Mrs. Stewart said she can see the difference she’s made. When a student doesn’t like school, she’ll encourage them to attend a competition where she believes they will excel.  Before they know it, the student places in the competition. This gives them an extra boost to do well in school.

“I love to teach,” Mrs. Stewart said. “I am so much happier teaching that I don’t want to ever go back to practicing law. “When students ask me why I went into teaching I say, ‘I’d rather make a difference in your life in the classroom than in the courtroom.’”

A Life Changing Decision to Become a Teacher

A Mom’s Desire to Spend Time with Children Leads to another Generation of Teachers

Twenty-five years ago Cindy Chuculate made a decision to leave the business world and enter the field of education. Her insurance career consumed her life and left little time to spend with her children.

She’s the first to tell anyone that switching careers to become a teacher was one of the best decisions she’s ever made.

Math was Mrs. Chuculate’s strong suit and upon graduating from Northeastern State University she become an adjuster. For nine years, she worked long hours in the insurance industry.

“As an insurance adjuster, I had quite a few counties to cover in my territory in Northeast Oklahoma. If anything happened in one of my counties, I handled it. I was working night and day,” Mrs. Chuculate said. “I had a home office and my two little kids would always ask, ‘Mom, Are you working tonight again?’ And it just hit me. I needed a job that would allow me to have time with my children. I missed out on so many things at that time in their lives.”

Cindy Chuculate in her computer lab at Salina High School.

With her math degree, Mrs. Chuculate already took several education courses. After investigating her options, she found out that it would only take her one semester of classes to obtain an education degree. She decided to go back to school. After graduating, she continued her studies to earn a master’s in Educational Leadership.

Mrs. Chuculate’s children weren’t the only driving force in her decision to become a teacher. Her grandmother was an educator and also tried to steer her in the same direction.

“My grandmother taught elementary school and always wanted me to teach, especially history. History was my least favorite subject so there’s no way that was going to happen,” Mrs. Chuculate said. “However, one of my best friends talked about how my grandmother had a positive influence on her. I thought if my grandmother really made a good influence on one of my best friends then maybe I could make a good influence on children too.

“Teaching was perfect for me. My son just started kindergarten and my daughter was seven when I became a high school teacher,” she said. “I was able to be off every time they were out of school so I could take care of them. I could go to everything that they were involved in at school and hardly missed any activities.”

Originally hired at Jay High School, Mrs. Chuculate would have to drive about an hour to work from her hometown of Pryor. This would almost defeat the purpose of being able to spend time with her children. Fortunately, there was an opening at nearby Salina High School, but she didn’t want to go back on her word once she accepted the position at Jay.

“I gave my word to the Superintendent at Jay and committed to teaching there so I didn’t think too much of the job in Salina,” she said. “The Superintendent was a family friend and knew about the job in Salina. He visited with the Principal in Salina and they decided that Salina High School would be a better place for me. I knew right off the bat that I made a great decision coming to Salina. The small-town atmosphere has been unbelievably positive for me. I became a single parent when my kids were in first and third grade, and the community helped raise my kids. My kids would be in the gym running around while I was coaching, and everybody knew not to let them go outside.”

Mrs. Chuculate has had a successful career at Salina, teaching Geometry and Algebra II the majority of her career. She also coached slow pitch and fast pitch softball, volleyball and basketball. During the last eight years, she’s taught a computer class and Microsoft Office. She also oversees the newspaper, broadcasting and the yearbook.

Cindy Chuculate and her daughter Chali Kingfisher at Salina High School during PJ week.

“I have 10 students in the newspaper class; one is a senior and the rest are juniors. They’re really a delight to have in class. From senior class profiles to interviewing coaches and taking photographs, the students are involved in sharing the news of the school.”

After all these years, Mrs. Chuculate still loves teaching.

“My message would be to do something that you love because money isn’t everything,” she said. “I found out I really have a passion for teaching.”

That passion for teaching has flowed over to her children as both of them are now teachers and coaches. At one point, all three members of the family were teaching at Salina High School in adjacent rooms.

“My daughter Chali Kingfisher is a math teacher and a cheer coach at Salina. My son Ty Thompson is a history teacher. He now coaches football and basketball at Vinita High School. I tried to get them to go a different route. I’m not sure why, but at the time I wasn’t making a lot of money and I was a single mother. Despite our struggles, we made it with a lot of answered prayers from God. I think He just provided for us.”

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Mrs. Kingfisher loves teaching just about as much as her mom. “It was like teaching was embedded in us. I love math and I know that I love helping people. That’s why I wanted to come back to where I graduated and help the community. I saw mom’s love for the subject and that made me fall in love with it even more so.”

Cindy Chuculate and her son Ty Thompson following a Vinita High School football game.

Mr. Thompson agreed with his sister about their mom, “I wanted to become a teacher because many of my greatest influences in life were teachers and coaches. My mom was a teacher so I was around other teachers all the time. I saw the impact and difference that she, as well as the others, made on students’ lives and I wanted to have that same impact on young peoples’ lives. Seeing mom’s former students coming up to talk to her, saying how grateful they were to have been taught by her is just awesome to see.”

Inspired to become a teacher by her grandmother, Mrs. Chuculate is pleased to pass the family’s education legacy onto her children. “I know my grandma is happy looking down from heaven seeing her granddaughter and great grandchildren serve as teachers.”

Class Supplies Turned Yard Art

Andrea Magness, Tech Ed teacher at Shattuck High School, was inspired during Covid to start a project in her class called Yard Cards to deliver messages to the community. Four senior girls in her yearbook class took on the project and it has been wildly successful. Signs have been requested for team sports, welcome back to school and holidays. “It’s so rewarding to see the students work in class and have fun while working,” she said. Watch more of Mrs. Magness’ story.

The Day I Quit Caring, Is The Day I Quit!

By Aleisa Rhoades, Chandler Special Education Teacher

When my older daughters were growing up, it was difficult to find good options for public education in Oklahoma City. Education was suffering at that time. When I was growing up there, we attended Putnam City Public Schools, which was considered the best available during that time. My older daughter attended the same schools I did, while my younger daughter attended a private Catholic school. I am not sure why I had bias toward public education at that time, other than the facts of under-funding, constant need for good teachers and lack of communication between teachers, students and parents. My oldest had many of the same teachers I had and even a principal, who was my coach in junior high. What I began to find, was my younger needed additional assistance in school due to ADHD and private school did not offer this. I feel this is what prompted me to become a special education teacher.

Aleisa Rhoades, Chandler
Public Schools

I can remember all of my teachers through grade school, most through middle school and two throughout high school. Those two and many others made a profound impact on my life, school was an escape from my (less than perfect) home life and I excelled in school. However, I chose to marry and have children rather than seek the traditional path of attending college directly after graduating. Once I decided I wanted to become a teacher (My first career was food and beverage), I plugged away at two jobs and college for seven years part time. I knew I loved children and “Children need help everywhere”. This I learned from a fellow educator, as I took my first teaching job in the inner city.

I have been a high school special education teacher now for 21 years and now teach in a smaller town outside of Oklahoma City. I enjoy high school students, because, if allowed, they have many good ideas and questions about our world, the world they will soon inherit. I have a resource room and teach math and English for students with all disabilities. These students also come in for tutoring, testing and many times food. I run a small food pantry for any kid who is hungry and they are all chronically hungry. I also work with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DRS) to run a School Work Study Program for those kids who qualify. They learn many skills and earn money through their elective classes.

I teach with my husband, Ty, as he also became a “second career” Special Education teacher. We have all of the special students in our high school. He takes the younger high school students, while I have the older grades. We consider our program very successful. One of my professors told our class once, “Special Education isn’t a class, it’s a program.” This is true. You must work with all administrators, teachers, parents and students in order to holistically educate these children, successfully. There are many odds against this group of kids and school and peers haven’t been kind to them. They do not love it. This, in addition to learning differences makes for a difficult bill to sell them. I encourage them to attend Vo-tech for a trade or skill, as we do not have enough of these workers in our society, and it is much more geared for them, or vice versa.

“I feel it is the most gratifying profession of all, as it is the most important to shape young minds.”

Aleisa rhoades

During this time, I am missing my “kiddos”, as we are in Distance Learning. I pray for them and their families. I worry about the learning curve we will experience dropping in the future and the need to keep kids engaged and working. I feel our students will buy into education, if we do and hope during this time, they miss school, their friends (even me), for whatever reasons. When we return, we may see a paradigm shift on how education should be run. Many may opt for online; many will continue to need additional help and many will excel. However, this doesn’t change my role to facilitate their learning, listen to their ideas and watch them grow up to change our world for the better. I encourage anyone who loves children and learning to become a teacher. I feel it is the most gratifying profession of all, as it is the most important to shape young minds.

One of the most satisfying for me is the conversations we have in class. The kids pride themselves on getting teachers distracted. What they don’t know, is many teachers value the honest conversations and questions kids have about real life. I feel it is of utmost importance to have these conversations, and now more than ever, we need to have them and attempt to honestly and objectively answer questions or prompt further ones. This is the path to solving deep rooted problems of our world, their world. To me, this is invaluable and is the difference-maker in education. I feel like the two teachers I remember the most in high school did those things.

Many students tell me they hate school or many of their teachers don’t care. What I find, is their parents didn’t love school either. This is not something easily remedied, but can be. Many times, I make it my mission to “win the parent over” first. Therefore, I now not only educate the student… I also like to tell my students “The day I quit caring, is the day I quit!” If kids know you are honest, and genuinely care, they tend to perform better and behave better. Most students would rather look obstinate then stupid. Many have low self-esteem coupled with all the other issues they face. Therefore, school isn’t just Math, English, Science and History.

When we do return to school, there will be a need to become more tech savvy. For this, I will rely on my students. Aah, the teacher has now become the student! But this is also an invaluable tool. Allowing students to help me and teach me things they know raises their self-esteem, engages them in a two-way channel of communication and gives them power. We all know that when you teach, you learn. Finally, I am pleased at the opportunity to share my experience. I feel my community of school, parents and children have been a gift for me and my husband. We find our best defense is to be in touch with parents, be very open and honest with our kids and do the best we can every day, modeling hard work, understanding and exploring our world through history, unity and kindness. This eliminates much of the discipline problems and makes our job much more enjoyable. We all should enjoy what we do.

Why I Love Teaching

By Pam Devers, Pryor High School Chemistry and Physics Teacher, as well Teach Oklahoma Educator

Pam Devers demonstrating a chemistry project.

I felt drawn to teaching in the eighth grade. My best friend’s mom worked at the front office of the junior high and would take me home after school. While waiting, I watched the teachers having so much fun. I have always like science, but that year I had a teacher who really inspired me. He later became my intern mentor, a peer and a friend. I took all the science and math in high school and never strayed from my goal. It did take a couple of years working in an industrial park lab before a non-coaching job opened in my area. In retrospect I am thankful for the two lab years of experience and growing time before teaching high school. It made me appreciate the teaching jobs I would have later.

There are so many highlights that have evolved during the past 30 years in my classroom, most come as little moments. The warm, fuzzy times have been a comment that warmed my heart, a sweet note, a fun joke between a student and myself, laughs during a lab or messed up demonstration, or even intense learning on marker boards. They just all add up and are distributed at just the right moments.

Teaching is not for everyone. We have all had teachers who just ticked off the minutes until the ring of that last bell. Going into teaching is a calling. You have to learn to be a flexible multi-tasking person who always has a “Plan B” up your sleeve. The main thing is to have a love for young people embracing their unique qualities.

In my experience, teaching has been the best career. I get to decide my day and hang out with kids whom I enjoy that keep me young or some days remind me I am not. You have weekends, holidays, snow days, and summer off which is more than most jobs. I have learned to ask for grants for my classroom. I have also traveled to conferences all around the U.S., Canada, and Japan. My husband, Cash, is a retired teacher and with our combined teaching salaries we have never been in need, which is a true blessing.

I have one classroom rule and my kids all know it because I say it all throughout the year- Be kind to one another. I use this to explain how problems happen when we are not kind, which we see daily in the news. For me showing kindness and teaching it with a little sass along with holding kids accountable is how I make a difference. Another teacher might have a separate aim, but that is wonderful how together teachers can bring many variables to a student while they mold themselves into the person they are to become…just like the eighth grader who watched and wanted to have fun and has done that for the past 30 years.

Pam and Cash Devers are longtime educators at Pryor Public Schools.