Tuesday, February 5, 2008
DALLAS - The little boy stops in Ruth Wagner's first-grade classroom door. Tears are streaming down his face.
"I lost my sweat shirt," he hiccups.
"Oh, no!" Wagner says. "And you're already crying? I'm sure we can find it if we take a deep breath and retrace our steps. Did you have it when you came back from gym?"
The little boy stops crying in an effort to remember his day. He's already calmer as he begins to talk through his steps that afternoon.
"I had it at recess," he says. "But I didn't have it when I came back."
"Well," Wagner says, "we had gym after recess. Have you checked in the gym yet?"
"No," the little boy says with excitement. "I'll go check there."
He then runs off and Wagner turns her attention back to the task at hand, talking about her thoughts on being named the Educator of the Year at the annual Dallas Community Awards ceremony in mid-January.
Wagner has been teaching for 32 years - most of that time with first graders, though early on she taught kindergarten.
Wagner grew up in Indiana and says she knew she wanted to be a teacher even as a child. She was from a small town, and in 1976 got a job teaching kindergarten at a private Christian school in Nebraska. Wagner was transferred in 1978 to a sister school in Corvallis.
"It was the right choice for me, though it was hard. Even after all these years in Oregon, I'm still a Hoosier at heart," she says laughing.
Soon after Wagner arrived in Oregon, she was introduced to her future husband by the mother of one of her students.
John Wagner is also an elementary teacher, and Ruth says he is her perfect match.
"He's just wonderful. He's a great supporter and he puts up with me wonderfully," Wagner said.
The Wagners lived in Corvallis for the first few years of their marriage. They lived in Beaverton for two years while John finished school. Then they moved back to Corvallis, where John taught school and Ruth took a job starting the kindergarten program in Tillamook. For a two-year period she lived and worked in Tillamook, far away from her family.
When a job in the Dallas School District opened in 1990, Wagner jumped at the chance to work closer to home. In 1999, Wagner's husband was hired as a fifth-grade teacher at Oakdale Elementary and the couple soon moved with their son to Dallas. They've been here ever since.
Their son is now grown and Wagner, 53, has more years of teaching behind her than in front of her; she is set to retire in eight years.
"You know what I'm going to do that first day of retirement?" she asks. "I'm going to turn around, come back here and volunteer. I'll spend the rest of my life helping kids to read - we've got to get these kids to read."