Feb. 13, 2021 — Later this February, Siuslaw School District fourth-grade teacher Vicki Rankin will be retiring after nearly 30 years of teaching.
Rankin first taught in California for two years before she got married and moved to the Florence area. She then became a substitute teacher for Siuslaw.
“The old middle school was one of my favorite places to go. Then I got hired for an overload position. We had a big influx of first graders, and I interviewed with Boomer Wright and got the job,” she said.
When that position ended, Rankin was hired next to help in the third grade.
“1997 is when I started full time teaching third grade. Then I taught first and second, then I went back to third, and now I’m at fourth,” she said. “I’ve moved around a lot in this school. I've been in a lot of classrooms, too. I've been through lots of principals and lots of superintendents. All kinds of things.”
She even taught previously in the same classroom she is currently cleaning of her possessions.
“I’m trying to finish up here and pack my room after 30 years. It is kind of crazy,” Rankin added.
In all her years of teaching, the past two years have been some of the greatest challenges. Like the rest of the school district, Rankin left for spring break last March and jumped feet first into comprehensive distance learning (CDL). By May, she felt she had a handle on it.
“The online part was difficult. … I could barely send a stinking email, let alone teach online. So I spent a lot of summertime watching YouTube videos and practicing — and I was up for the challenge,” she said.
Rankin joined the elementary school’s planning committee for the 2020-21 school year and helped develop a process for CDL, limited in-person instruction (LIPI) and the hybrid plan that will go into effect Feb. 22.
“If I could look at my crystal ball, I just can't believe we are where we are. It’s been a challenge. But I’m kind of proud of myself — I’ve actually become a pretty good online teacher,” she said.
So much so that her colleagues presented her with an award for her work in technology.
“I would have laughed at that, because I consider myself a techno idiot, but that's what they gave me. And I actually have overcome some obstacles, which I'm proud of,” Rankin said. “I have made a rapport with my kids online, which I did not think was possible.”
The fourth grade has been lucky, she said, since she is able to teach the students via livestream. The district sends out materials, and the students are able to follow along while she teaches.
“The kids are on with me,” she said. “When we're doing a math lesson, they have that math lesson in front of them. I've enjoyed that. It's been a little more interacting, a little more engaging.”
She’s had to learn to engage virtually with students and connect them to the learning materials in whole new ways.
“I teach, whether my kids are getting anything out of it or not. I know I put a lot into it. This is the hardest I've ever worked in the 30 years that I've been a teacher.”
Rankin has had to learn a lot of lessons over the years. While she said teaching hasn’t changed much, she has had to adapt.
Her very first class consisted of 37 fifth graders. She had to learn not to be their friend, but their instructor and disciplinarian.
“It took until Christmas to get my class back into order. So I vowed there and then that I will lay down the law. Now, even online,” Rankin said.
This method has helped hundreds of students find success both within and outside of the classroom.
“I really think kids want (discipline), even though they act like they don't think they do,” she said. “It just makes for a better teaching environment. Not chaotic. You know, it was chaotic in my room that first year.”
One thing that has changed about teaching is the expansion of the internet and accessing information.
“Now kids can find answers to things at their fingertips,” Rankin said. “But I also think it's been a little bit of a demise. People want instant gratification, and they don't want to work for it.”
She also had to adapt the way she planned lessons. Things wouldn’t always go the direction she wanted, but those impromptu days sometimes were the most effective.
“I love teaching. I mean, I do. One thing I could say is, kids are still kids. Even though things are different right now and there are things that are different about learning, I just love watching them learn. I love watching them grow. I enjoy planning and then watching that lesson that I planned come about, and how the kids like really love it. … Just watching kids ‘get’ it. That’s probably one of my favorites is when they look at me and go, ‘I get it!’ They love that, and it makes the teacher happy, too.”
In fact, Rankin loves teaching so much that she will tutor a pod of students as they navigate the next semester of school.
“I’m going to help a group of kids that are struggling,” she said. “This has been hard for parents and families, and their dynamics. We are moving into a hybrid model, but it's still not kids here at school all the time. So I'm going to help a small group of kids get through the rest of the year.”
Her initial plans had been for leisure, she added, and travel. But the COVID-19 pandemic will keep her local. This also means some more time with her 17-year-old son, a Siuslaw junior.
Rankin had considered retiring earlier, but the promise to get to see kids back on campus saw her through.
“I came in over (winter) break and got my room ready, because at that point, we saw kids! We did LIPI and we invited kids in, in very small groups. They were here and I did see them and it was really fun to see them in person,” she said. “But I'll tell you what — teaching with a mask is not an easy task whatsoever.
Teaching throughout the pandemic has not been easy. The “ever constant changing” has been a challenge, she said, especially with the flexibility required by teachers and families.
“But I’ll miss teaching. I’m sure I’ll miss it. Maybe not right away,” Rankin said. “You know, when you've been doing something for 30 years, it does become part of your life. Your school people become your family. You look forward to it. It’s all those things. You make a rapport with them. So yes, I’m going to miss them all.”
The Siuslaw School District Board of Directors learned of Rankin’s retirement during its January meeting.
Director Paul Burns has worked with Rankin and her classrooms at the Knowles Creek Smolt Trap through his job as a fisheries biologist at the U.S. Forest Service.
“Vicki Rankin has put in so much time and energy over the years. She's put in a lot to this district,” Burns said. “I hope she knows that we respect and appreciate her time.”
The school board expressed sadness that they couldn’t shake her hand or see her in person as they thanked her for her service to the district.
As for Rankin, she didn’t want a ton of attention as she wrapped up her time at Siuslaw.
“I think it's time for me to ride off into the sunset,” she said.