A Missouri educator thought she would work for about ten years within the state’s schools for the severely disabled. Turns out, Terry Neumeyer loved it so much she stayed for almost 48 years.
“It got under my skin in a very, very good way,” she said.
Fate is what led Neumeyer to be where she is today. Her college advisor recommended getting licensed in special education, so that’s what she did.
“I was going to teach kindergarten through third grade. So I was in regular ed. About halfway through, this law was getting ready to get passed. And so, the advisors at the university were saying, ‘You need to consider taking some special ed courses. The universities were gearing up, you need to take it. You need to get certified, because that’s where a lot of the jobs are going to be.’ And so, I did it kind of just a hedge to see what would work out. You really think that you’ve got a greater power guiding some of this sometimes the way it works out because I ended up here. I got the degree just to make sure I could get a job,” she said.
That’s not where the story ends. She said she landed her first teaching job by accident.
“The area director had a list from the university, from SEMO, of people who had special education certificates. He looked at the first name, but he called my phone number because I was number two on the list. I went in for an interview and I’ve been with this system ever since,” she said.
Neumeyer, of southeast Missouri’s Cape Girardeau, has served at two different schools during her time – Parkview School in Cape Girardeau and New Dawn School in Sikeston. She was in the classroom for several years and then began serving as a building administrator later on in her career.
What has made her get up each morning and go to work?
“The kiddos that we teach here are amazing,” she said. “I’ve developed really good rapport with families over the years. The people that I work with, the teachers, and the aides, the secretary, the nurse, the cook, the custodian, everybody is here for the kids. This is a small school and so we have almost a feeling of family. We get to know each other really well, really support each other and really are focused on the children all the time. Teachers are made for certain populations, certain niches. When we find it, we don’t work. People who work here will say, ‘I can get away from my troubles at home by coming here because of the environment, the climate and so forth. I think that it gives you a sense of making a real difference for people. Our students in particular have such cognitive disabilities. That takes a lot of patience, but it really makes you appreciate very small things in life. It can be a life changing perspective on things. It’s like, things don’t always have to go that way. You have to look at Plan B, and how are we going to adjust instead of letting it just throw us off. I love the students we’ve served. It has been truly an honor to get to know them and their families.”
She said the greatest lesson she has learned during her time is patience.
“I was not a patient person,” said Neumeyer. “When I started out, I thought that things should be done a certain way. I guess over the years, I’ve learned that we’re all going to the same place, but we may take different side roads and so forth to get there to allow other people to grow and shine with their strengths. It doesn’t always have to be the way you envision it at first. If you can open up your heart and your mind, we end up with even a better place than what we thought we were going to end up with. So that’s my biggest lesson. That’s my life lesson.”
Her 48 years of service has caught the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s attention. The state agency has recognized Neumeyer during June’s “State Team Member Appreciation Month.”
Neumeyer is retiring in July – or so she says.
“This is my second retirement,” she said. “I keep saying it’s going to stick, but people who know me say it probably won’t. I might have to volunteer to come read books or something to the kids here. I don’t know.”
Before she heads out the school doors, she has a message for the community.
“My message to everyone is to look at what people can do, not what they can’t. Be supportive and to the leaders. Listen to the teachers. Teachers know what kids need,” she said. “Sometimes we get caught up in the politics of educating our kids and it’s to the detriment of our children. If I could send one message, it’s listen to the teachers. Get them involved. And to the community at large, just be accepting of people. Invite them in. You’re going to be amazed at the wonderful people who may be a little different than you, but they’re really wonderful. I would just encourage people to really look at educating children in general, whatever group you’re interested in or that speaks to your heart because every child is so very, very precious. We need people who are truly dedicated to them.”
To listen to the Show Me Today interview with Terry Neumeyer, click below (15:05).
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