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On a quest for a substitute for a day filled with students

Ted Frey outside of Elmira’s Park Manor PS, where he will be wrapping up his 30-year career at the end of the school term on June 28. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

Ted Frey is a multitalented music, drama and math teacher at Park Manor Public School in Elmira. He will be retiring this month with mixed feelings about wrapping up his 30-year career.

“I would say he’s been a fixture here,” said Shirley McHolm, principal at Park Manor PS. “He’s been teaching here for decades. He’s been in charge of about 17 different musicals or play productions for the school over the years. He’s certainly been an anchor to our building, for sure.”

Frey has witnessed various changes to the educational system, with his own teaching style evolving over the years, too, he notes.

“When I started, I was very much concerned about the subject,” he said. “The longer I worked, I think it shifted to more and more the students and the learners. And those relationships – it’s rewarding to see them learn. The light in their eyes when they understand something or feel an accomplishment, I think that’s the most important part of teaching. That’s what I meant when I said I finally got it right. That is something I’ll miss; it’s something truly special.”

There has also been a drastic shift in the use of technology since he started.

“This really sounds hokey, but when I first started there were Gestetner copiers,” explained Frey. “Those are the things you had to make a master and crank it through an ink machine. There might still be some in the school. Photocopiers were just a new thing. So the technology has certainly changed over the years.”

Frey also saw the first inclusion of personal computers in schools.

“They were very crude, very primitive, and they ended up taking more time than they saved,” he said. “I think we’ve passed that point; they’re to an advantage now. Initially, it was like, ‘you might as well get out a pencil and paper because they’re so slow.’”

He believes that the advancement of technology, with devices such as smart phones and iPads, is both a blessing and a curse.

“The ability to be constantly connected and the addiction to being constantly connected is a real problem for everyone,” he explained. “Not just the students, but for the adults as well. Even if you put the cell phone in the desk, in the locker, or on top of the desk and it’s turned off, and you give everyone the same exam. With control groups and everything. And the closer you are in proximity to your cell phone, the poorer you perform on your test. So even if it’s turned off, it’s still such a large part of our consciousness and we’re devoting so much of our energy trying to ignore it that we can’t do as well as we’re capable of. I think that goes for adults, that goes for all of us.”

His retirement plans include wilderness hiking, river trips, woodworking, and horseback riding lessons. While he’s excited to have more time for a range of hobbies, the routine is something he’ll miss.

“As much as I hate the structure, you know how you say you hate getting up in the morning,” he said. “But I’d come to school and if I wasn’t happy, within seconds of seeing the kids or having someone say hello to you in the morning, I’m happy. And that takes you through the rest of the day. That’s something that I’m going to have to find a substitute for. As much as the teacher’s supposed to be the one motivating the students, it goes the other way as well.”

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