Brownstown Elementary School teacher retires after 33 years


Arriving at Ball State University, Amy Hartley said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for a future career and was open to anything.

With the school being a big teaching college and having some of her friends in that field of study, she thought she would try some of those classes her sophomore year.

Fortunately, she liked it.

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“My parents, there was never a question I was going to graduate from college. That was a no-brainer. What I did with it was up to me,” Hartley said. “But I just don’t think we were as aware of the different things. Now it turned out to be the best thing I could do, and I loved it.”

When it came time to do student teaching her senior year, Hartley asked to be paired with a male teacher, and she wound up in a sixth-grade classroom at Muncie Southside.

“The guy I student taught under, one thing I learned from him, he used his sense of humor in the classroom, but he was well-organized and had a routine, and he had a passion for those kids,” Hartley said. “I learned a lot from him just seeing him interact with the kids.”

She knew she entered the right field.

“I remember one of my advisers, she said, ‘You’ve got that feel for it,'” Hartley said. “It’s like someone running. They are either a runner or boy, they are struggling with it. I think I just thought, ‘OK, I feel this.’ I think people have their niche.”

After graduating in the spring of 1986, Hartley landed a teaching job at Brownstown Elementary School.

At the end of this past school year, she decided it was time to retire after 33 years.

“I had it in the back of my mind all year long,” the 55-year-old said.

She had met with a financial adviser in the fall and again during spring break. Then at the end of the school year, she announced her retirement.

“I would say the word would be bittersweet,” she said. “There’s so much I’m looking forward to, but it’s hard to think that that part of your life, it stops so quickly. When those kids left that last day, somebody asked me if I was sad, and I said, ‘Absolutely not. No.’ I had some trips already planned, and it was summer vacation. No teacher is sad the last day of school. That’s why I felt so good about it.”

Finding her niche

Hartley grew up on a farm about 6 miles south of Vallonia and went to Vallonia Elementary School. She later graduated from Brownstown Central High School in 1982.

When she was looking for a job after graduating from college, she learned Brownstown Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Mary Lou Burcham was taking a year off because she was pregnant with twins.

She got that position for the school year, and when Burcham decided she wasn’t coming back for 1987-88, the superintendent asked Hartley if she wanted to continue.

She wound up staying in fifth grade for nearly 20 years.

“All I can say is thank goodness for the other teachers. It was baptism by fire,” Hartley joked about starting her own classroom. “You learned more in the first semester. It’s so different. Here you’ve been writing these lesson plans that were six and eight pages long, and now, you’ve got six lesson plans a day every day.”

The other fourth-grade teachers were Theda Williamson, Trudy Reynolds and Danny Fisher.

“It was a wonderful experience because I became best friends with two of those women,” Hartley said of Williamson and Reynolds.

“They were each 20 years older than I am. They basically took me in and helped me, but then we became lifelong friends. They were almost like second and third mothers for me,” she said. “You felt like family. The people you hung out with were the people you worked with. With them being 20 years older, age meant nothing. Then Danny Fisher was across from me, and he was a wonderful man.”

Digging into the past

Hartley finished her career teaching fourth grade, which gave her the opportunity to teach Indiana history and genealogy.

Indiana history has been part of the social studies curriculum for a long time, but genealogy was unique to Brownstown Elementary School.

“It just so happened Nancy Burge retired back here. She knows Margo Brewer, and she just offered it and asked if I wanted to do it, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that sounds wonderful,'” Hartley said of the two women who volunteer with the Jackson County History Center in Brownstown.

Burge would visit the classroom several times to help kids learn how to research their family history, and they would visit the history center’s genealogy library during the last meeting.

Hartley said fourth graders loved talking about pioneers, and her students would dress in clothing from that era during their annual field trip to the history center in the spring. They also read books like “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Bears of Blue River.”

“The kids start to develop just to understand a little bit more about the past,” Hartley said. “You just try and make those connections, and it’s not that long ago that this state was just total forest and just rugged. I always tell them, ‘Would you like to go back?’ ‘Yes.’ We all just dreamed about that. I just think that’s the age when you think about that. ‘The Bears of Blue River,’ I read that every year, and it just brings it to life.”

Each year, Hartley said she was excited to get to know her students.

“You get this new class every year, and it’s like getting a new family,” she said. “It takes you about six weeks just to get to know each other, and after it melds, it’s just amazing what a part of them you become, and then the next year, you do it all over again. I just enjoy the kids.”

She also said it’s fulfilling to watch them continue through their school years and find their place in life.

While recently at a doctor’s office, she said all of the staff had once been her students. Another time, she was at a restaurant in Bloomington with friends, and a waiter heard her laugh and came over to the table and asked, “Is Mrs. Hartley here?”

“It’s amazing how you’ll touch base with kids,” she said. “This year, two-thirds of my class had one parent in my class.”

Hartley also worked with a lot of teachers, administrators and other staff members over the years.

“When you have a career where you’re in the same building with the same people, it becomes a huge part of your life,” she said. “You just worked together. If you needed something, you automatically just got it from somebody. If someone knew you needed something, you just bounced things off of each other. You just kind of learn to know what the other people need.”

Setting sail

While it will be an adjustment not having to prepare her classroom for another school year, Hartley expects to stay busy in retirement.

She works a couple of days a week at Anytime Florals in Brownstown. She also likes working around the house with her husband, John, and enjoys going hiking.

“When you’ve gone to school every year, I know what I’m supposed to teach, I know what I’m supposed to do, so this is a whole new world for me that I want to come up with an idea and do something creative,” she said. “I love anything to do with gardening and plants and ornaments. I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I’ve got ideas.”

She and John also plan to travel, including going to Iceland in September.

“My sister and my nephew were planning the trip, and then when I made this decision, we had always wanted to go, so I thought that’s a perfect opportunity,” she said. “I always said I wanted to go northeast again if I got to quit teaching. I just didn’t know it was going to be that far.”

Amy and John have visited every state, and she said she would like to visit the northwest part of the country again. Plus, they have taken several cruises.

Now that Amy is retired, they will have plenty of time to plan trips.

“Who knows? I may go back to all of them,” she said of venturing around the 50 states.

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Name: Amy Hartley

Age: 55

Hometown: Grassy Fork Township

Residence: Vallonia

Education: Brownstown Central High School (1982); Ball State University (bachelor’s degree in elementary education, 1986); Indiana University Southeast (master’s degree in education, 1989)

Occupation: Recently retired after 33 years of teaching at Brownstown Elementary School; works a couple of days a week at Anytime Florals in Brownstown

Family: Husband, John Hartley; parents, Leland and Jean Hackman; Mimi to Preston Kovener and Jackson Hartley