But come this August, instead of returning to the classroom, Winter and husband Norm will be doing something different because both are retiring after teaching with Marion County Special Education Cooperative, which provides services for Marion County’s five school districts.
“We just decided it was time,” Winter said about their joint decision to retire. “(Norm) started talking about (retiring), and I thought, ‘No, not me, I’m going to make it to 50 years.’ And then I thought, ‘We’ll just have some time to do (other things).’”
She said her husband kept saying they would know when it was time.
“We did,” she said with a smile.
As a young girl growing up in Olathe, Gloria Winter seemed destined to become a teacher.
“I come from a family of educators,” said Winter, whose two of four sisters also are in education. “My dad was a public school administrator and went on to teach at the collegiate level. I just enjoyed working with kids. Even my grandmother was a teacher. I guess it was in my genes.”
Winter said back in the day, three career choices were available for girls.
“You became a nurse, a secretary or a teacher,” she said. “Teaching was the best choice for me.”
Winter earned a bachelor’s degree in education at Emporia State University, and during the summers, she completed her master’s in special education at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, Oklahoma.
In 1971, Winter started her career in Hutchinson and soon taught under Title 1, a federally funded program that targets students at risk.
“Title 1 are kids that need some help in reading and/or math,” she said. “They’re just not quite up to speed. They haven’t been diagnosed with a disability.”
Winter continued to work with Title 1 when she was hired by USD 410 five years later, first teaching at Suncrest and Durham schools and then eventually teaching in the regular classroom for third and fourth grades once those schools closed.
In 1975, a federal law—Public Law 94-142—was passed that had in a significant impact on public education.
“I mean it really changed education,” Winter said. “(The law) said that all children with disabilities deserved an appropriate public education. Prior to 94-142, children with impairments were separated from the regular classroom. Before then, there weren’t (cooperatives or services for students with disabilities).”
Also known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, PL 04-142 mandated all schools that accepted federal funds were required to provide equal access to education for children with mental and physical disabilities.
“Some of those children just needed a boost, and they could stay in the regular ed classroom,” Winter said.
After several years in regular USD 410 classrooms, Winter returned to special education 13 years ago to work for MCSEC.
Asked about differences she experienced teaching students in settings ranging from the regular classroom to Title 1 and special ed, Winter said she didn’t know that she experienced significant ones.
“You find out where the student is and move forward, whether they are average or below average.” Winter said. “I always thought it was important to establish a rapport with the student, that you learn more about each other. I think that they work harder for you if you’ve established a rapport with them and perhaps even with their parents.”
Students do their best when they have a connection with the teacher, she added.
“You just have a rapport where they like you,” she said. “They enjoy being with you. It’s positive. I want them to enjoy what they’re doing and then they’ll go further.”
Of course, Winter said, she’s also faced challenges such as the degree of academic or behavioral progress made by students.
“So you just keep trying and trying,” she said. “It’s a challenge. You have to find Plan A, B, C and D.”
Most recently, Winter taught special ed students in second and third grades at Hillsboro Elementary School.
“Working at Hillsboro is an exceptional place to work, to teach,” she said. “The staff is above and beyond. I feel like I’ve been really fortunate to teach there.”
She credits the support of the para-professionals and administrative leadership by principal Evan Yoder as contributing to the success of the program there.
“It was a team effort,” she said. “I absolutely couldn’t have done it without them. And we got to where we were kind of a well-oiled machine. They knew what I would think and I would know what they would think and do.
“I have just loved each and every of the 47 years. I’ll always thoughts and memories of special students.”