It was 1973, and I met Ophie Wheeler, who was the first grade teacher at Lotspeich. I hadn’t heard of Lotspeich before that. Her description of the school sounded almost too good to be true. Ophie encouraged me to visit for a day, so I observed in Ophie’s classroom, where I watched her delightful, free-spirited, fun, inventive teaching.
I was invited to visit the faculty room and other classrooms throughout the day. I was enamored with the camaraderie I saw at the school, the support, the respect for the teachers. There were so many aspects that reinforced my more idealistic view of teaching. What struck me most was the joy that the children were exhibiting. They could just be kids. Outdoors has always been a source for fun and for learning beginning with Mrs. Lotspeich’s vision for the school. I observed children learning academic subjects outside and playing during recess. The teachers were so devoted to the children, knowing and respecting them as individuals.
I had the privilege of meeting Ted Wuerfel, the principal who succeeded Mrs. Lotspeich, during my visit. It was his last year as principal. He invited me to his tiny office and said, “How was your day?” I told him what an amazing school I thought it was, and, after some conversation, he said, “Would you like to be a third grade teacher here?” The following year, I started teaching at Lotspeich in the third grade. I have never forgotten how I felt entering the building, as though I had walked through a doorway and on the other side was a rainbow — that at Seven Hills I could be the teacher that I aspired to be.
The curriculum was structured but not prescribed, as was my previous experience. I had developed a reading program which I wanted to continue. I wasn’t discouraged or directed to another program. The teachers were able to individualize more, and I learned from the master teachers at Lotspeich how to balance a sequenced program while meeting individual needs. Colleagues were open to classroom visits, so I could gain teaching insights to implement in my classroom, particularly as a relatively new teacher. They, too, were interested in my ideas, and I felt free to have professional discussions about possible innovations for the curriculum. The culture here is driven by the respect that everyone shows for each other. I experienced that at Lotspeich, in the Middle School, and as an administrator. Seven Hills fulfilled so many of my teaching dreams.
When I became the Lotspeich division head, I realized that we begin teaching respect and empathy for others beginning in early childhood. I quickly learned from the faculty how to approach our littlest learners in resolving a conflict. I recall my first year seeing two 3-year-olds struggling with sharing the same play space, which ended in hurt feelings. The teacher assisted through leading a conversation to help the children respond with more empathy by saying, “How would you feel if this happened to you?” and “What can we do to make your friend feel better?”
We would always say that we do quirky kids well — kids who might have found less understanding in another school. Not that Seven Hills is a utopia, but we acknowledge and celebrate those quirks, special interests, and gifts that make each student unique, appreciated, confident, and self-reliant. I have been honored to be a part of this incredible community and proud that the warmth and joy in learning has endured over these many years.