www.johnsonpublications.zenfolio.com Bonnie Becker | Johnson Publications
In a familiar scene, Diana Tate listens intently to a student’s speech. She has spent nearly as much time in student desks listening to them as they have listening to her. After 40 years teaching English, speech and Spanish at Perkins County High School, Tate will retire at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
Diana Tate to retire after 40 years at PCS
Most people can look back and name their favorite teacher. Some will even name a few. Others can name one teacher who forever changed their life.
For many, that teacher was Ms. Diana Tate.
Every day, for the last four decades, Tate has entered the doors of Perkins County High School with undying love, passion and dedication for her students.
Now, as the 2018 school year comes to a close, Tate will retire, ending her 40-year teaching career at Perkins County High School.
After graduating from Colorado State University, Tate and husband Robert moved to Nebraska. They settled in Perkins County on Robert’s family farm, which was originally homesteaded in the 1800s. The couple remains on the farm, having raised the fifth generation to call it home.
Tate began her career in 1975 in Brule after her first application for an open position in Grant at PCS was turned down, as she was not qualified to coach football.
However, Tate knew PCS was where she wanted to be and recalled her daily glance at the Grant grain elevators before beginning her trek to Brule, knowing some day she would be at the school she wanted.
In the fall of 1978, Tate got her wish and began teaching English at Perkins County High School in Grant. Later, she added endorsements to allow her to also teach Spanish and speech.
“I consider myself an English teacher, teaching speech and Spanish,” she explained.
Although she may be an English teacher at heart, it was her vast knowledge and dedication to speech that so many of her former and current students remember.
Countless state speech qualifiers and medalists have become one in the same with Tate over the years. But it was her daily speech class so many PCS graduates remember that built confidence and skills for a lifetime.
Looking back at her 40 years in education at PCS, she explained there are just far too many fond memories to recall. However, there are a few that certainly stand out in her mind.
One person Tate said she will forever associate with Perkins County High School is Geraldine Kleist, the first teacher she met when she started in 1978.
“She was a brilliant, witty and generous woman as well as an incredible English teacher,” Tate said, later adding, “she spoke Latin. Nobody speaks Latin! Who speaks Latin?!”
Tate was also blessed with the opportunity to teach briefly with E. Lee Todd, who she deemed a truly wonderful man in terms of hard work, focus and as a role model for students and teachers alike.
“Those are people you just don’t forget. Their character, their integrity, their demeanor. They were just really, really fine people.”
Tate said she will greatly miss the education system at Perkins County, one she proudly considers the premier educational system in Southwest Nebraska.
As she looks back, Tate discussed the quality of teachers within the PCS system. As she explained it, there is a teacher for every student. There are teachers who arrive early, some who stay late, teachers who are available to talk, to offer extra help or even extra work. She is incredibly proud to be a part of that tradition and a school staff that truly connects with its students.
She has greatly enjoyed teaching in a community that is so supportive of its school and students. A fact she says is not the norm in every small town.
Tate also has incredible praise for the behind-the-scenes staff including school cooks, janitorial staff and grounds keepers.
“For schools our size, we have incredible grounds. We have incredible facilities—this is not the norm. It’s been really nice to be at the exception—the positive exception—the last 40 years.”
Other favorite memories are comprised of the strange animal situations she encountered during her many years including stray cats and dogs wandering up to the third floor on summer days, flybys from Reebok, Mr. Forney’s parrot, an escaped snake…also Mr. Forney’s, and “an army of rodents” visiting throughout the school year.
In her many years of education, Tate had a front row seat to witness upgrades, improvements and changes to the school, the education system and even to her students.
Though she has seen many changes and improvements to the school, Tate claims the number one improvement to the building in her 40 years was air conditioning.
She went on to explain that her classroom, in the southwest corner of the third floor, was so hot she had kids faint and couldn’t hold classes in it during the heat of the fall. Air conditioning completely altered the way she taught in August and September, even allowing her to dismiss the need for make-up days if school was cancelled due to heat.
She truly enjoyed watching fashion changes on her students over the last four decades; the 70s being her favorite.
The number of activities students can partake in has also changed significantly over the years. Additions including mock trial, science club, quiz bowl, girls sports and even the number of games in a single week have all changed the way students participate in school.
Furthermore, as school populations decline, Tate has noticed students are under greater pressure to participate in more; requiring more and more time dedicated to activities outside the classroom.
There have even been changes in weather that were never once a factor.
“In 1978 we never had snow in April or May,” she said, recalling the havoc weather has wreaked on this year’s spring sports and contests.
Additionally, Tate has witnessed changes in society that have had a drastic impact on education and changed the daily functions of the school.
Following the 1999 Columbine shooting, teachers were faced with a significant role in student safety; something they had never been a part of before.
“None of us ever knew what lockdown drills were. Because there was never a need for a lockdown. We all understood fire and tornado, but not lockdown or intruder in the building.”
She explained how negative aspects, more commonly associated with schools located in large cities, still had to be prepared for, even in Grant.
“Things that haven’t changed,” Tate quipped, “is high school boys think a lot about food and girls. High school girls think a lot about boys and clothes.”
She admits that may seem superficial, but has over 40 years of eyewitness observations to back it up.
For 40 years, without fail, students have enjoyed Tate’s Wall of Fame, made up of Grant Tribune news clippings of current PCS students, which cover the west wall of her classroom.
“That was the best bulletin board idea I ever had,” she said.
After recalling several of her favorite memories and changes she has witnessed, she went on to share the many, many things she is going to miss after her retirement.
“I’m going to miss the daily contact with kids–in the hall, in class, downtown. Watching kids progress on a daily basis. The faculty, the staff, the adults I’ve worked with.
“I’m really going to miss the view from the third floor of this building, early in the morning and late at night, because it’s an absolutely gorgeous view.
“I’m going to miss cooks feeding me and janitors cleaning up after me. And I’m going to miss Mr. Boldt telling me that I don’t know how to park and that my tires are flat. I mean, seriously, I have no idea what’s going to happen to me.”
She will not, however, miss the State Department of Education.
“It’s a necessary evil, but I don’t mind saying goodbye,” she said with a laugh.
When asked about what she’ll do with her newly found free time, she said, “First of all, I’m going to win the Lottery and buy a castle in Spain.”
But until that pans out, she plans to be doing exactly what she is doing now, but far less. She intends to substitute teach, go to every speech meet Perkins County attends, read, clean her house, play Scrabble with her husband and make more frequent trips to Illinois to spend time with her four grandchildren, Payton, Selah, Meila and A.J.
Tate will continue to enjoy being part of a community in which her former students return. She explained she loves getting her car serviced by a former student, getting her eyes checked by a former student, discussing writing, literature and journalism with students working at the paper who worked with her on the Plainsmen Press, working with speech contest judges who were former speech students. Even her “ultimate boss,” the school board, has some of her previous students sitting on the board.
After 40 years of dedication, Diana Tate, like others before her, will be synonymous with Perkins County High School.
“If you go to a job you love, there’s no time involved. It’s very hard for me to imagine this has actually been 40 years. It’s truly been a pleasure and an honor.”