BY KRISTIN SCHULTZ
REXFORD — She said there were only 21 students in the classroom, but on the last day of school it felt like many more. Nevertheless, Glencliff Elementary School Kindergarten teacher Abby Weber handled the bounding excitement of a room full of 5-year-olds with the aplomb that can only come with nearly four decades of experience.
After 39 years of teaching, the past 34 at Glencliff, Abby Weber is retiring — hanging up her paint smock and stashing her math manipulatives in favor of travel and the opportunity to teach teachers.
On the morning of June 21, Weber deftly juggled a crowd of students who wanted to give her presents, bus passes, notes from home and just an account of their morning. She gave each student her undivided attention and denied no one a hug or pat on the back.
“One, two, three,” she said.
“Eyes on me,” the class responded in unison.
Weber led the students through calming exercises like spider push-ups and breathing up and down your fingers to get them focused on the task at hand — finishing Father’s Day cards and putting final projects in their mailboxes to take home.
“She has amazing patience, energy and commitment for supporting each child in the areas where they need to grow,” said Shelley Baldwin-Nye, Glencliff’s principal. “She can scan a group of children building a town and know who might need some guidance about how they are feeling if the tower falls, or who need encouragement to add to the tower or who needs to explain their thinking on a decision of how they designed a part of that tower.”
“She leaves a legacy,” said fellow Glencliff teacher Annette Romano. “She is passionate about purposeful play and learning through projects. She has come up with developmentally appropriate assessments in literacy and math for the district that will continue long after she is gone.”
Weber said it’s no coincidence she became a teacher. She has always loved and been comfortable around children. She spent her youth baby-sitting and being a camp counselor.
“It’s exciting the way they look at the world,” Weber said. “To see them discover something for the first time just sends chills up and down my spine.”
Discovery is a key component of learning in Weber’s classroom. The class’s recently completed unit on birds started with a question: What do we know about birds?
That question led them to ask: What do we wonder about?
Then: How can we find the answers?
From there, students brainstormed research methods and put together posters to demonstrate their learning.
Weber does the bird unit yearly, but since each class asks different questions, the project never turns out the same way.
“One year the class was really into bird sounds, so we worked with the computer teacher to develop a bird song guessing game,” Weber said. “This year I incorporated our nonfiction literacy unit into the class work. We talked about how some books tell a story and others give us information.”
There are birdfeeders and a birdbath on a pedestal outside the windows.
Weber is also fiercely committed to incorporating purposeful play into the school day.
“Well-designed play can be easily built in,” she said. “Learning takes place in a meaningful way that doesn’t happen with a worksheet.”
Weber said students have a deeper learning when that learning is active. She would often teach a mini-lesson, then move immediately to active learning through movement or manipulatives.
She may help tie shoes and teach phonemic awareness during the day, but at night Weber has often taught teachers through classes at the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center.
Not only does Weber teach, but over the past 39 years she has been a learner. She attended continuing education sessions taught by Sylvia Chard and Lillian Katz. But more than seeking out new and better ways to teach, Weber has learned from her students themselves.
“I’ve learned how important it is to listen to them and figure out where they’re coming from because they may say one thing, but there is something else underneath it.
“They help me continue to be learning and look at something in a different way,” Weber said.
Weber’s love of discovery won’t fade when she cleans out the last classroom cabinet. She intends to spend her time gardening and traveling to see her sister-in-law in Fairbanks, Alaska, visiting national parks and returning to Panama, where she started her career.
She will also continue to put in time at the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center, as well as lend her expertise at University at Albany’s School of Education-based Capital Area School Development Association.
“I’m so lucky to have been hired in Niskayuna,” she said. “The administration and staff have allowed me to grow, explore my interests and have listened to new ideas. The sense of support is beyond what I could have dreamed. They are simply the finest.”