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Barb Maas: a teacher all her life

By ANDREA FURLONG

maas
Mary Welsh third grade teacher Barb Maas poses for a photo with her last class of third graders. She is retiring at the end of the school year after teaching 30 years in the Williamsburg School District.

Mary Welsh third grade teacher Barb Maas can still recall the very first day of the first class she ever taught. The classroom consisted of just two pupils, both under 5 years old, and was located within her home in Wesley. Three years separated the then six-year-old Maas from her oldest student.

“The first day after first grade, I came home and started playing school with my two sisters. I rounded up everything there was to play school with. I played school with my two sisters forever. From the (first) day of first grade, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.

By discovering her passion for learning and teaching early in life, Maas, 65, influenced her sisters’ progress in school.

“It was just fun to show what I was learning with them. When they went to school, they were so much more ready, because I pretty much would tell them or teach them about everything I was doing,” she said.

By the eighth grade, Maas was ready to take on a classroom outside the house. She began leading the weekly Sunday school class at her church and teaching during Bible school in the summer.

In junior high, Maas also began playing basketball and softball at Corwith-Wesley High School. Her dad, who loved softball, had established the girls team at the school a few years earlier when he heard they didn’t have one.

Maas’ father loved sports and encouraged all three of his daughters to get involved in school athletics. He was so passionate about sports that when his siblings all moved to Minnesota, he stayed behind because the state didn’t offer school sports programs for girls.

“We all played sports. He helped us, made us better,” she said.

During the day, Maas’ father was an auctioneer and operated his own sales barn. At night, he was a softball player who took the game seriously, even though he wasn’t paid to play.

“All summer long, he probably played softball four nights a week and tournaments on the weekends. It was just a big, huge deal.

And when her father traveled for games, the family followed.

“We had fun and went all over. It was just our life, really,” she said.

Maas recalled one year, the pitcher of her father’s team practiced in his hay mow during the winter, so that by spring the team would be ahead of everyone else.

“I’m sure eventually they beat everyone, because that was a big deal with my dad and that’s probably why I’m not the best loser — because it was a big deal not to lose,” she said.

When she graduated from Corwith-Wesley High School, Wesley, in northern Iowa, Maas was an accomplished athlete (she played two years at state for girls basketball) and was on her way to bigger and better things. After graduating from the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) with a bachelor’s degree in lower elementary education and an emphasis in math, she took a first grade teaching position in the Cedar Rapids School District in 1966. At the end of the school year, she and her former husband moved to his hometown of Williamsburg, where she taught first grade for three years. In preparation for her first child, she left teaching in 1970 to become a stay-at-home mother.

“I didn’t want my kids to go to daycare and I wanted to teach. I wanted to be a mom,” she said.

After 13 years spent raising two sons and a daughter, Maas returned to teaching, accepting a position as a Title I reading teacher in 1983. Two years later, she became a third grade teacher — a position she has held ever since.

DETAILS, DETAILS

In her 30 years of teaching in the Williamsburg School District, Maas will be remembered for many things, like her attention to detail.

Maas’ room has always had colorful and neatly arranged displays on bulletin boards, but the other three third grade teachers agreed that hers are a little neater than theirs. 

“She measures to the middle to make sure everything is even,” said third grade teacher Theresa Glandorf.

Over the years, Maas’ careful measures and particularities over her bulletin board displays have been the source of many lighthearted jokes between her and the other third grade teachers.

According to Glandorf, a former student teacher of Maas’, the pictures on Maas’ displays are always pinned in the same place.

Maas admitted that is true.

“They still look as nice today as they did clear back in 1967,” she smiled.

Third grade teacher Brianna Weldon recalled occasionally seeing Maas wearing a thimble while pushing straight pins onto the board.  

“I even bought a thimble just to try it once,” Weldon laughed.

But, while bulletin board displays seem like a trivial thing, they’re something that her third graders take notice of when they walk into the classroom every day.

“She changes her bulletin boards every time we have a new math unit,” said third grader Talia McAtee.

CRAFTS

Another thing Maas will be remembered for are her crafts. For every big holiday, there is a craft project to go along with it in Mrs. Maas’ room. On Mother’s Day, children paint vases for their moms. For Father’s Day, they’ll take a picture home made especially for their dads. For Christmas, they’ll make paper Christmas trees to hang from the ceiling.

Some crafts, including the Christmas tree, have been adopted by the other teachers. Occasionally, Maas “supervises” the other teachers and help them construct the crafts the right way.

“With the Christmas trees, it’s easier to just tape the parts together. (Third grade teacher) Doyle (Geyer) tapes them, but she doesn’t like that, because then they don’t spin right,” Glandorf laughed.

“The first time I made them, I think she helped me with them to make sure I was using glue and not tape,” Weldon chuckled.

Maas said when she started her career, schools did not have art teachers and teachers were expected to incorporate art projects into their classroom. Since then, they have become a chance not just for individual expression, but also a way to give back.

“They’re more for gifts to teach children the value of sharing and giving. I definitely want kids to know that that’s important,” she said.

Third grader McAtee said making crafts is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being in Mrs. Maas’ class.

“I like all the projects we do. I will really miss those,” she said.

BRIBING

While children love to learn, there are some things they do not enjoy learning, like multiplication, division and spelling, Maas said.

“It’s a fact that kids would not learn their multiplication facts so well, if you weren’t dangling things before them,” she said.

Maas has overcome this hurdle by offering what she calls “bribes” to students when they do well on a math or spelling test. The bribes have included anything from lunch with three friends in a private room to getting to sit all day in a teacher’s chair with wheels.

“Everyone loved that prize. That’s one of the big reasons, we wanted to get all the answers right,” remembered sixth grader Dakota Frank.

Maas has also used incentives to encourage good behavior and caring for others in her classroom. At the beginning of each year, Maas starts out with an empty jar. Each time a student does a good deed or the class behaves well or does well on a test, Maas drops a few marbles into the jar. When the jar is full, the whole class celebrates with the prize of their choice: extra recess, a movie, chairs with wheels for everyone for a day or game day.

“I don’t like game day,” Maas sighed, adding that she never really understood the fascination with video games.

WORST FEARS

Every one of Maas’ students is well aware that she doesn’t like mice. She has traps laid out in all corners of her classroom in the event that a mouse would stray in, but that doesn’t stop her students from pranking her every so often. McAtee remembers when one of her classmates placed fake rats on her desk this year. Mrs. Maas was not so amused.

“She grabbed his arm and said, ‘Really? Where?’ And when she saw it was fake, she was like, ‘Oh, Jacob. . .” McAtee said.

”It is true. I absolutely hate them,” Maas said.

Anything that resembles a mouse — hamsters, squirrels, etc. — is not on Maas’ list of favorite animals.

“One time a kid wanted to donate a hamster as a class pet and she just couldn’t do it. It was too much like a rodent,” Glandorf laughed.

Her second biggest fear is school pictures.

“Her worst day of the year is school picture day. She stresses about it for weeks ahead of time. Every year she says, ‘I’m just not having it taken this year,” Glandorf said.

CARES FOR EVERY STUDENT

Both teachers and students agree Maas truly cares about every one of her students. Put that together with her competitive drive, and you get a teacher who is always encouraging students to do their best.

“She has high expectations and believes kids are capable of achieving high standards. Because she believes they can do it, they start to believe it, too,” Glandorf said.

“I actually think she’s my favorite teacher so far. She’s really cheerful,” said third grader Jacob Allen.

Sixth grader Frank said unlike other teachers, Maas never raises her voice when she is upset.

“She doesn’t yell. She would never yell at anyone,” she said.

Sara Fox, also a sixth grader, said Maas really set an example in her instruction and own actions on how to treat others.

“I learned from her to be kind and respect people,” Fox said.

MEMENTOS

Throughout her career, the things that have really stuck with Maas are the little gifts of thanks from parents and students.

“I can say what I remember the most are the little things kids brought me or their little notes and pictures at unexpected times, (as well as) the sincere notes from parents thanking me for caring or their child’s good year. I have kept them all and do occasionally read them again which helps me recall just how important my job is,” she said.

RETIREMENT

Maas said she is retiring to spend more time with her children and first grandchild. She plans to remain in Williamsburg and help

 her granddaughter, who lives in Des Moines. While she is looking forward to spending more time with family, she said it will be difficult for her to leave her lifelong passion.

“I don’t know if I can function without (teaching). There isn’t ever a day that I wake up that I don’t want to get out of bed and come to school. I just really like it, and I think, ‘What on earth will it be like this fall?’ I still hope that I’ll be all right in life,” she said.

UPDATED May 25, 2010 11:49 AM

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