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05/29/2014 at 2:38pm

Cathy TrentBeach Elementary Teacher
Cathy Trent Retires

Fourth Grade Beach Elementary teacher Cathy Trent can’t remember how many years she’s been teaching at our island school. "I’ve been teaching in Florida for 22 years, and I think I’ve been here the last 7 or 8 years,” she said with a short laugh and a dismissive wave of her hand. After you spend some time listening to this veteran teacher talk about her career in elementary education, you realize that she isn’t in the game for the points, or accolades, or a medal for years of service; she’s always been in it for one thing and one thing only, "It’s the kids.”

Since "forever,” Cathy Trent wanted to teach. "I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” she says with certainty and obviously heartfelt emotion. "There was nothing else.” As a child growing up in Columbus, Georgia, the oldest of three children, Cathy would pass her playtime pretending to lead her ‘students’ (neighborhood friends, siblings) through their lessons. When she was old enough, she babysat, and found she enjoyed taking care of the little ones and teaching them along the way.

Trent (nee Cathy Jane Underwood) earned her degree at Columbus College, "right there in Columbus, Georgia”. There were no teaching jobs available in 1974 when she graduated, so she went job-hunting and landed a position as the secretary in the trucking department at Bill Heard Chevrolet. She was the only woman among them and says she was treated like a queen. "They were four of the greatest guys in that department, and I had two years of absolute bliss.”

But her true calling had always been teaching, and she was finally able to get a job in an inner city school. "It was right off the Fort Benning (Army) base, literally in the middle of the projects,” Trent remembers. "I loved the fact that, back in those days, both the kids and the parents really appreciated everything, and they wanted their children to do better. They wanted them to have better than what they had.” Cathy wanted to teach, and they wanted to learn. "The parents were onboard. I would be at Parent-Teacher meetings until ten or eleven o’clock at night. They all came, and we would just sit around my classroom chatting with each other about their kids and so forth. It was wonderful.”

Cathy met her former husband Mike Trent while teaching at that school. "Mike was a military man. We got married, and two years later, I got pregnant with our son, Justin,” who made his first appearance in 1980.

With a transfer to Germany not long after Justin was born, the Trent’s spent the ensuing three and a half years there. "I taught second grade in the Department of Defense schools that were set up for the kids whose parents were stationed there. It was one of the best times of my life.”

The Trent’s were next stationed in Tampa. "I taught first grade at Apollo Beach, then I moved to a neighborhood school in Brandon, where I taught fifth grade and I l-o-o-o-v-ed it!” It was her first experience teaching older elementary students, and it was an eye-opener. "I really like teaching the older kids. They really get my humor,” of which Cathy has a boatload.

Just a few years after they had settled in Tampa, Mike decided to retire, and took a job teaching the ROTC classes at Cypress Lake High School. And that is how Cathy found herself in this neck of the woods. And although it was brand new territory for her, Trent got her household packed onto the moving van one day, and landed a teaching job in the Lee County School District the next. Cathy recounts the story about how the principal at Suncoast Elementary (now Three Oaks Elementary) called Trent just as she closed the moving van doors. "She said she wanted me to come for an interview the next day, and I said ‘Okay, but I’ll probably be wearing the same thing I have on now because all my stuff just went on the moving van.’ She said that was fine. So I went to the interview the next day and got the job.” Cathy taught 3rd, 4th and 5th grades, including students with learning disabilities. "That was my first experience teaching those kids and I loved it.”

About seven or eight years ago (but who’s counting, anyway), Trent had the opportunity to interview for a job at Beach Elementary, and she was hired for the Curriculum Technology Specialist position. The same year she was hired, the student population dropped by 50 students, the position was cut, and she was able to move back into the classroom to teach fourth graders. "I just went right back into the classroom like I never skipped a beat.”

When asked what the most important thing about teaching might be, Trent pops back without hesitation, "Kids. If you don’t like kids, you cannot or should not be in this profession. It’s your whole job, your whole life.” Cathy points her finger with a flourish like an exclamation point and repeats, "It’s the kids! Your attention is on them constantly.” In fact, most teachers spend their own money on things for the classroom and for the students to enhance lessons and provide rewards for jobs well done. "What am I going to do tomorrow to get this point across? What can we do that might take some stress out of their day? What can I do better next year that I might not have done so well this year? You’re constantly changing because of kids. It’s the kids.”

With the widely derided FCAT era coming to a close, and the new Florida Standards (Common Core) approach being implemented, Cathy tells us she is hopeful. "Education should be well rounded, stepping stones that you don’t move on from until you’ve mastered them. With FCAT, you (aren’t supposed to) care about mastery. Instead, every teacher needs to be on the same page in the same book in the same month.” Clearly, Trent dislikes this approach, but brightens up talking about the Common Core model, which she believes "will take us back to where we should be in education. Hopefully, it will stop making teachers slice off the tops of their students’ heads and just dump information into them. It’s going to be hard to make the transition because the kids haven’t been taught to think, but to memorize and regurgitate.” It’s almost impossible to find any teacher speak positively about FCAT, "but I think you’ll find the teachers are going to like Common Core.”

With the abundance of passion, humor and love this teacher has for her profession and her students, it is a puzzle why Cathy Trent would choose to retire before she has run out of steam.

"There is one reason, and one reason only,” she says beaming like a kid waiting for Christmas. "My son and daughter-in-law are expecting their first baby, and I am going to stay home and be a grandmother and take care of her.” She practically vibrates with excitement.

Any words of wisdom to share with our community? Without hesitation, Cathy implores us to "remember that these children belong to all of us. We all need to pick up the pieces and do the best we can with them. They are our future.”

Jo List