Going Strong After a Half Century of Teaching
Gail Mattraw ’73 is living proof of not “working” a day in your life if you find something you love to do. This year she reached the milestone of 50 years in front of the classroom all at one school district in upstate New York.
Many professionals count down the days until they can retire when they have worked multiple decades, but Gail Mattraw ’73 is celebrating her 50th year in front of the classroom with no plans on slowing down.
Mattraw has worked in the Hermon-DeKalb Central School District since she earned her degree in physical education. The district has shrunk in size as the farming communities have dispersed and mines have closed, but her love for getting students to explore the environment around them has grown.
“That’s sort of my claim to fame is to get kids outside, and keep them active, to find things that they can do with their families,” said Mattraw. “I never say I’m going to work, I say ‘I’m going to school,’ because it doesn’t feel like work to me. It feels like I’m having a good time there. If somebody would have told me 40 years ago that I was going to teach for more than 50 years, I would have told them that they were nuts but the more I do it, the more I love it.”
Born and raised in Watertown, Mattraw quickly adopted the Hermon-DeKalb area as her new home. She prides herself in exciting outdoor lessons with subjects like sledding, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and biking, mixed with outdoor themed lessons conducted inside like indoor archery and traversing a rock-climbing wall.
“I’m trying to bring outdoor recreational activities to the kids so they can find something to do instead of sit in front of their TVs all the time,” shared Mattraw.
Elementary education was the focus of Mattraw’s physical education degree, but she fluctuated at one point to teaching high school students. At the time she resonated more with that group, but recently she has transitioned back to elementary school students.
“(Kids) Going into elementary, they’re excited about everything you do, every single day,” explained Mattraw. “It’s added more time onto my teaching career.”
Whether it be rummaging through garage sales, securing state or federal grants, or personally repairing equipment Mattraw does whatever it takes to keep her classroom equipped for outdoor activities. It is common to find her repairing items at the end of lesson plans and browsing forums for available grants to expand the possibilities of her lessons.
Numerous flat tires have been repaired by Mattraw, but more students have learned to ride bikes under her tutelage. She starts Pre-K students on balance bikes prior to training wheels.
“Last year I got my kindergarten kids riding a bike without training wheels, and half the Pre-K kids riding without training wheels,” said Mattraw. “And they’ve already started on me, ‘when are we riding, when are we riding.’”
Students eagerly report to Mattraw when their parents take their training wheels off their bikes at home. Sometimes the children’s parents are her former students.
Mattraw routinely sees three generations of former students at Hermon-DeKalb basketball games. She chaperones high school basketball games in addition to keeping the score and stats book for the girls’ basketball teams. Although Mattraw has moved on from her athletic director days, a position she held for 23 years, she relishes the moments with multiple generations of former students.
When asked what advice she would offer current students on the longevity of her career, she emphasized staying active and bringing structure to students. Mattraw has provided structure to numerous generations of Hermon-DeKalb students in her 50 years of leading the classroom.