After teaching at St. Theresa Catholic School for the past 32 years, self-professed third-grade teacher extraordinaire Melissa Allen is permanently turning in her grade book.
“I’ve really identified myself through this profession,” she said. “I feel teaching is a craft, and a good teacher practices their craft, and nurtures it and grows it, but not everyone can do it.”
Originally from Chicago, Allen and her husband, Terry, moved to the Valley of the Sun in 1971, after their nuptials.
Allen’s first teaching position was at St. Matthew Catholic School for five years prior to joining
St. Theresa, where it’s estimated she has taught more than 1,000 children.
Students, past and present, continue to stop by her red-brick classroom to chat about life or homework.
One of her former students, Ann Howe, is a colleague in a classroom next door, and Allen recently received an email from another student now stationed in Japan with the United States Navy.
He wrote to say the suffix poem she taught him decades earlier comes in real handy.
“It pleases me when they remember something they’ve learned, or some funny thing,” Allen said.
Of course, she has her own favorite memories; like the time she slipped out of her chair and all that could be seen were her feet sticking out from under her desk.
The next morning a parent left her a seatbelt to avoid further “Wizard of Oz” replays.
As memories flood back, so does the realization that Allen is experiencing the “last of” school traditions and rituals; like attending Stations of the Cross with the seventh-grade students, Wednesday Mass, or her infamous Famous People’s Report.
The latter has become a rite of passage for 8-year-olds.
“The best day is when they deliver their speeches in a roomful of adults with great poise and facial expression,” Allen said. “There is one thing I hope, that whoever follows me will continue this.”
At one point during her career Allen was encouraged to go into administration, but chose to stay in the classroom.
“This is the heart and soul of the school,” she said. “You get instant feedback from faces that light up, and that’s powerful.”
For the past 37 years Allen has been working in a profession for the Diocese of Phoenix she calls unique, stimulating and challenging.
“I feel I’ve been blessed with students and families. I work with my best friends, the staff,” Allen said. “I will miss the spirit and energy of the school, and I will miss being with my colleagues.”
All seven of Peg Sandahl’s children had Allen as a teacher.
“She’s tough, but fair, and that’s what I love that about her,” Sandahl said. “She’s very funny and has a great personality. Mrs. Allen will be deeply missed.”
The good news? Allen is a member of St. Theresa Parish so there is sure to be a sighting of her now and again.
“When you’re in a place a really long time, you become part of the fabric,” she said. “I’ll be around.”
St. Theresa Catholic School is planning a reception in her honor, May 19, following the 9 a.m. Mass, in Fr. Feeney Hall. Info: (602) 840-0010.