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Then and Now Quick Takes

As the last few decades have rolled by, no part of your day has gone unchanged. You even had to fight for the right to wear pants!

Special Education

Charlene Knudten of Rock Falls, Illinois, has been a special education teacher since 1975. She sees the increase of students between the ages of 3 and 5 needing special services as a particular challenge.

“Not only is the paperwork mounting, but the techniques and support needed for my students with autism has changed my classroom approach,” she says. “In the past, my students needed some speech and language support and went on to regular or special education. Now I am part of a team that requires extensive planning and development of strategies to teach these students skills in all areas of development. Besides meeting with parents and staff to develop individual education plans, I need to collaborate regularly with the social worker, occupational therapist, school nurse, and administrators to plan intensive programs for my students.”

Student Health Care

With each passing decade, the emphasis on keeping students healthy has dramatically changed the way education support professionals do their jobs. In just one decade, Rebecca Smith of Tulsa, Oklahoma, watched her role as a school nurse change. “We are becoming more and more a community resource and the primary health providers for our students,” she says.

When she began at Webster High School in the 1990s, Smith would tell parents what immunizations their children needed. Now she administers them on site, and Internet billing lets the school district garner income from the service. Health care workers now recommend specialized programs for vision- and hearing-impaired students, and schools have audiologists on staff. Most nurses are now trained for such community-wide crises as terrorism and  environmental emergencies. Smith and her staff keep records for every student and write individual health plans for children with special medical needs. They attend annual training, including mandatory HIV/AIDS training.

Still, the fight to be viewed as professionals integral to the success of the districts they work in remains, even in 2006. “Of all the changes that have occurred, we are still mostly isolated and left out of the loop—but ready to help,” Smith says.

Dress Code

“[Starting in 1971] women were allowed to wear pants to school, as long as the material and color matched the top. We were thrilled.”
—Ginger Taylor, now and in 1971

Like hemlines, dress codes have changed drastically over the decades, for teachers and students alike. “When I started teaching in the early 1970s we could not wear pants—dresses and skirts only,” says Carol Riddle Peters of Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Well, the miniskirts were so mini, you can imagine what recess was like in the wintery conditions in Michigan. Thank goodness for the maxi-coats.” By the mid-70s, teachers in her district were allowed to wear pants—but “if, and only if, it was a matching pant suit.”

Ginger Taylor, a reading specialist from Arlington, Washington, began working in 1971—”the first year women were allowed to wear pants to school, as long as the material and color matched the top. We were thrilled and took full advantage of it.”

Sue Shaw began teaching high school physical education in 1965. “My girls dressed in matching gym suits with their names embroidered on them. At the end of the class, there was a required ‘shower check’ when girls wrapped in towels filed by to be marked off on the class list,” she recalls. “I wore three-inch heels to school every morning and put on a wrap-around skirt over my shorts if I was going to leave the gym.” Flash forward to this decade, and the matching suits and shower checks were gone. But Shaw’s “warm-up suits and Nikes made me the most comfortably dressed teacher in school,” she says.


When a Michigan school district wanted Ila Oaks to teach in the 1950s, “they had all these plans in order, [including finding] a mother they would vouch for to take care of my two preschoolers each day while I taught her daughter.”

Now 93, Oaks is a retiree in Kalispell, Montana. Imagine the district lining up childcare for you these days!

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