Reaching students for 50 years

PIQUA — Even though she’s been teaching for 50 years, Sister Mary Alice Haithcoat says she’s constantly learning, oftentimes from her students.

“Kids teach me something every day. They know a lot about computers — we use a SmartBoard, and if there’s a problem they’ll say, ‘sister, hit this button, do this.’ It’s just amazing to me, what they’ve grown up with,” Haithcoat said. “You are constantly learning. I’m constantly figuring out how to do things. There’s always going to be a challenge, and I’m always going to have to learn more.”

Haithcoat knew she wanted to teach from the time she was a child, and would often “play school” with her younger brother and kids in her neighborhood. Ever since she was a child, she loved being around other children, and would often stay behind after school to help her teachers. Having great teachers throughout her formative education had an impact, inspiring her to want to share with others what her teachers shared with her, and to have a positive impact on children through education.

“The more teachers I got to know, I appreciated what they did. I just wanted to share what I had, just as they had shared what they had — the great gift of being able to reach kids. I thought that’s what I need to do,” Haithcoat said.

After graduating high school, Haithcoat entered the sisterhood and then went on to study for her bachelor’s degree at Mount St. Joseph University, and her master’s degree at Xavier University. She was first hired at Holy Angels in Sidney in 1971, and went to St. Marys School in Greenville in 1979; in 1993, she began teaching at Piqua Catholic School and has remained there ever since.

“It is kind of funny, because I’m teaching students now, and I taught their grandparents and their parents. It’s interesting — what I enjoy watching is how my former students, who are now parents and grandparents, how they relate to their children,” Haithcoat said. “It’s so enjoyable to see how they relate, and how they get along with each other and how they teach their children. It’s a wonderful experience to watch how they have grown.”

Over the years, Haithcoat has also witnessed the changing landscape of education, most notably with technology. She remembers having a blackboard in the classroom that the teacher would use when she was a student and speculates that with the continued growth of technology, physical textbooks may someday be a marker of the past. Likewise, a lot of learning is done through weekly educational videos and computer games that incorporate science, math, history and vocabulary.

“I think that because of all that, and because of the media and TV and computers, that’s so much more a part of the kids’ lives than it ever was when I first started teaching. They didn’t have laptops when I first started teaching, they didn’t have computers. The first time I worked with a computer was when I was in Greenville — we had to go to a meeting to learn how to use the computer, and I said, ‘oh, I’m sure I’m not going to use a computer.’ Well — I took those words right back,” Haithcoat said.

With 50 years in education under her belt and more to come, Haithcoat finds the most rewarding part of teaching being when her former students return and share a story or memory with her from when she taught them.

“Just the fact that they came back to say something to me, that they remembered, or they remembered something that was very minute in my mind, but it meant something to them. Those are wonderful memories for me,” Haithcoat said.

Another rewarding part of teaching is getting to see her students grow and learn over the years.

“The beginnings are always wonderful, and just how they grow and mature. I see my students now as third graders that I had last year, and I think some of them have really come a long way,” Haithcoat said. “It’s just very, very nice to experience that with the kids, and because I’ve been here long enough to know their whole family, it makes it even more special in that, I feel like I’m part of their family.”