After 45 years in the classroom, Diane Comandella has seen numerous changes in education.
But she believes that the basics of teaching are still much the same.
“The way you teach a child is to work with him or her,” said Comandella, who is retiring this year – she has spent her entire career in Flossmoor School District 161, most recently at Western Avenue School.
“If what you are trying doesn’t work, you have to try something else. It’s all about connecting. It’s also about trust and commitment. You have to have patience and perseverance.”
Comandella said she has been fortunate to be in a school district, and a classroom building, where learning is treasured.
“I’ve always been impressed by the parents at this school,” she said. “The education of their children is the more important thing to them. Their support is huge.”
Comandella has taught third, fourth and fifth grade in District 161. She started her classroom career in 1972. Her first assignment was at Western Avenue School, transferring the next year to Normandy Villa School. She remained there for the next seven years, moving back to Western Avenue when Normandy Villa closed in 1980. It is now the district’s administration center.
Over the years, Comandella has seen the emergence of technology as a force in the classroom. Testing on the state level has also become increasingly important. Throughout it all, she said, the best part of the job is helping children to learn.
“My best memories are of watching children achieve something that was once difficult for them and seeing the wonder and joy on their faces as they realize they have mastered a skill,” she said.
By staying so long in the classroom Comandella bucked one trend – the opportunity to retire from teaching as early as possible. In the 1990s, the state urged teachers to retire in their 50s as a cost-cutting measure. Comandella stayed in the classroom and said she thought long and hard before deciding to retire this year.
She said she’ll miss “the daily work with the kids, my amazing colleagues and the wonderful parents I have met and worked with all these years.”
Retirement, Comandella said, will give her more time to focus on the volunteer work that she loves.
“With more time I will be able to work with my church group to do weekly cooking for the homeless shelter, search out books for my book group and spend time with family and friends,” she said.
Western Avenue School, she said, has always been like a family to her.
“During the happiest times of our lives, or the most tragic, we always felt insulated by the teachers and staff,” she said.
This story first appeared in the May 2016 print edition of the Chronicle.