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Longtime Stafford County math teacher Helen Schwartz (center) taught Yvonne Nageotte some 34 years ago and her son Lane this year.
From preschool to law school, Yvonne Nageotte has had plenty of teachers.
But only one has remained such a fixture in her life that the North Stafford resident wanted to share the teacher with her son.
Her fifth-grade teacher Helen Schwartz made such an impression that Nageotte kept in touch for 34 years. And this fall, when her son Lane Nageotte-Taylor learned that Schwartz would be his math teacher, Nageotte jumped for joy.
And it turned out to be just in time. Schwartz will retire this month after 35 years of teaching in Stafford County Public Schools.
Schwartz and her husband moved to Stafford from upstate New York to launch their teaching careers. Her husband taught drafting and Schwartz taught fifth grade at Stafford Middle School.
When she arrived, the county had two elementary schools, one middle and one high school. Stafford High School was brand new. And Stafford Middle was in what is now the School Board offices. State Route 610 was a rural two-lane road.
And in her second year of teaching, Schwartz had Nageotte as a student.
"She treated us like a person, not just a pupil," Nageotte recalled. "It's rare to have somebody who teaches like that, with that style you can relate to."
Two years later, Schwartz was a seventh-grade teacher and saw a somewhat familiar face: Nageotte's twin sister, Yvette.
Their father, attorney Richard Nageotte, held a big party when his daughters graduated from middle school and Schwartz was invited. That became a trend and Schwartz later attended Nageotte's high school, college and law school graduations, as well as her wedding.
When Mountain View High School opened in 2005, Schwartz went there as a math teacher. It was her fourth Stafford school; she has taught at Stafford Middle, North Stafford High and Brooke Point High.
She estimates that more than 5,200 students have sat in her classes through the years. And Schwartz has worked hard to develop relationships with most of those students--though few of those associations have been as enduring as her friendship with Nageotte.
Students often come back to tell her about their college, military and family lives. Some take her out for lunch or dinner. Recently, a current student referred to her as a second mother. He is from Ghana, and his mother is still in Africa. So, Schwartz went to his soccer games and took pictures, sending them to his mom.
As the mother of two herself, Schwartz knew the student's parents must miss him.
She tries to get out to see many of her students in their athletic events and other extracurricular activities.
And by 7 a.m., her classroom is often filled with students who can't stay after school for extra help because of sports practices.
She gets handwritten letters and emails from former students quite often.
"Every time I thought about retiring, I got another letter," she said.
One former student wrote from Iraq, wanting to let her know that he did use the math she taught him. Her past students seem determined to share their lives with her, even after graduation.
For 14-year-old Lane, that's not hard to understand.
"She teaches to every student," he said. "She spends time with each of us. She's the best teacher I ever had."
Schwartz spends so much time with her students that if you stop by her classroom at Mountain View, you might miss her at first. The petite instructor is more likely to be sitting at a desk, giving one-on-one attention to a pupil than standing in front of the class lecturing. She prefers classic teaching techniques and refused a SmartBoard when they were being installed in Stafford classrooms.
When new teachers ask for advice from a veteran teacher, Schwartz tells them, "Teach the students, not just the subject."
But as standardized testing takes up more and more class time, Schwartz worries that new teachers won't be able to concentrate so much on the students anymore.
And so while she will miss working with kids, Schwartz said it's definitely time to put down the chalk and retire.
Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973