Sherril Cain has technically been retired for more than two decades, so when the staff of Sherwood Heights Elementary School in Pendleton surprised her with a going away party, they sang “Happy re-retirement to you” to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”
After working as a full-time teacher from 1958 to 1995 and a substitute teacher since then, Cain decided to let her substitute license expire on Friday, marking the end of 59-year career in education.
Pendleton School Board chairwoman Debbie McBee was on hand to congratulate Cain, delivering a short speech where she noted the history Cain brought to the district.
Cain, who will turn 81 on Friday, was quick with her reply.
“I have a lot of history,” she said.
Cain said she always wanted to be a teacher and would sometimes take on that role when she was younger, whether it was dropping off homework for the neighbor boy when he missed school or filling in as a substitute for a second-grade class for three weeks, when she herself was still in eighth-grade.
Cain eventually earned her teaching license and was hired to work as a first-grade teacher at Washington Elementary School by Wallace McCrae, the Pendleton School District superintendent who would go on to become Blue Mountain Community College’s first president.
She started her teaching career during a very different time in education, an era that was less test intensive and didn’t have a unified curriculum across schools.
Cain proved to be a steady presence at Washington, and even when she took time off for maternity leave she would spend it grading papers or tutoring.
Her daughters — Karen Smith and Brenda Giesen — eventually followed her into education. Smith is a first-grade teacher at Sherwood Heights while Giesen is the assistant principal at both Sherwood Heights and Washington.
When Cain retired in 2005, she became Smith’s go-to substitute teacher.
Both Smith and Giesen gushed over how amazing it was to see their mother become a colleague and called her an inspiration.
Sherwood Heights principal Theresa Owens said Cain never failed to build a rapport with the students she subbed for and her experience was an asset.
“There’s something to be said about longevity,” Owens said.
Owens marveled at the fact that Cain came from an era where chalk and a chalkboard were one of teachers’ few tools.
The Pendleton classrooms of 2017 are definitely different than the ones in 1958.
The building Cain taught in was demolished last year, in its place a new Washington filled with projectors, tablet computers, laptops, Smartboards and other technology meant to enhance learning.
West Hills Intermediate School, which opened the year Cain started teaching, is now the Pendleton Tech & Trade Center, which houses some of the district’s career technical education classes and its alternative education program.
Despite the changes to education over the past six decades, the basic teaching strategy of “common sense and show them loving” has never failed to work for her.
As a parting gift from Sherwood Heights, Owens presented Cain with a permanent parking pass and a school T-shirt, although parting gift might not be the right term.
Cain already has plans to begin volunteering in Smith’s class, a designation she won’t have to worry about renewing.
“We’ll see you tomorrow,” Owens said.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.