After 40 years of working in education, including the past 12 years as principal of Citizen Genet Elementary School, Ana Yeomans is retiring in June. We sat down with Ms. Yeomans recently to talk about her career, her time at Genet Elementary School and the state of education.
Q: When you started your first teaching job, did you have expectations of this kind of career?
A: I never really thought beyond teaching when I first started. I’d always wanted to be a teacher. My father was a teacher, and I really admired him and the work that he was doing. He worked at School 10 in South Troy which in the 50s and 60s was a challenging school, but he loved that. I just so admired him, I thought, that’s what I’m going to do.
A few years into it, I worked for a principal who said, “You know, you should think about going into administration. Have you ever thought about that?” And my dad had followed that same path. He was a teacher for a lot of years. So I thought, yeah I can think about that.
I think my first principal position was when I turned 31. I was married with two little children and I was kind of concerned about that challenge, but I really liked being a principal. I looked at it as a way to help teachers do their jobs better. I could get resources for them that they needed, or try to resolve their concerns and make it easier for them to do a good job. I felt fulfillment from that.
I will say that the happiest years that I ever had were teaching. I’ve loved my position as a school administrator, I’ve done it for 35 years now, but when I think about the pure joy I had from teaching, those are the best days.
Q: What has it been like to work at Genet Elementary School for the past 12 years?
A: I’ve loved it. The community is so supportive of our school, including our parents and the external community who work hard to support the school and what our teachers are doing. I’ve worked with great teachers and administrators ever since I’ve been here. I really haven’t had a day when I regretted coming to school.
For a building that was a high school at one time, it has transformed into a wonderful elementary school. We have a great staff. My administrative colleagues have been fabulous. I’ve learned a lot from them. People like John Caporta stand out to me as someone who has the whole big picture. He is a great resource when you have a concern or a question or when you just want to bounce something off of someone who is totally solid, I call John Caporta. So I’m glad he’s leaving when I’m leaving. We’ll fade off to the sunset together.
Q: What is your proudest achievement as principal of Genet?
A: Over the last 12 years, we have really built a community here. Not to say there wasn’t community before I arrived, but the school 12 years ago still hadn’t been around that long. It was opened as an elementary building not that many years before and they had taken staff from all the other buildings and brought them here, so it didn’t seem so cohesive as it does now. And I think over the 12 years we’ve seen people really grow together as a faculty and really support one another and work well together, share resources, and they are eager to help out.
A lot of great initiatives have come out of this building – Mary Ball was the first person in the district to use an interactive whiteboard, we had the first leveled book room – I just look at the Genet staff as being really innovative. They want to try new things. The MakerSpaces is a perfect example. They wanted to create a space where students could learn, think and work with their hands. But I give them all the credit in the world for leading the charge on that.
So when I look back, I am most proud of the faculty and their willingness to try new things and lead the charge. But they don’t do it for the glory, they just do it because they know it’s good for kids.
Q: What has been the biggest change in education since the start of your career?
A: The obsession with test scores. When I was first teaching, it was about good teacher preparation, good delivery of instruction, assessing kids – absolutely – to make sure they were getting what you were teaching, but more for the joy of learning rather than having to fret about my kids’ state test scores. I never had that pressure when I was teaching, and my kids did well.
I think one of the reasons we developed the MakerSpace was because we wanted to put some of the joy back and let it be fun again. We can still cover all of the content, and we can still have the kids know what they need to know, but we’re not going to spend our whole day doing test prep. And it seems like the harder schools tried to do that, the less successful they actually are. I think if they just step back and spend some time thinking about what’s really important here, that’s the biggest change. Because the good teachers are still there and delivering good instruction.
Q: Do you think the pendulum is swinging back in that direction?
A: I hope it does. I don’t really see it happening yet. Usually when you go to such extremes, you kind of swing back, but this has been going on for a while. I hope it changes for the sake of young people who have that desire to be teachers.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to a person starting out in education, what would that be?
A: To develop good relationships with their colleagues, parents and children. Any time we’ve got parents working with us, it’s a success story for everybody. I think it’s really extending yourself to parents, listening to their concerns and what they have to say, and developing good relationships with your colleagues. To have regard for those who have been here before you and have those experiences. As a younger teacher to seek out those longer tenured folks who have been where you are and know what you’re going through, those who have life experiences and can be guides and mentors.
And I would hope before they even got to be a teacher, if you don’t really want to do this, if you really don’t have a passion to teach, don’t do it. Go find something else because the world needs teachers who really want to teach, that really want to be there day to day, on the good days and bad days for children. And if that really isn’t there, steer clear because we need people who are really passionate about what they are doing.
Q: How did you decide this was the right time to retire?
A: Well it seemed like 35 years as a principal should be the right time for anyone to retire. People always said to me, “You’re going to know when it’s the right time.” My parents are aging, I know I could be more helpful if I had that kind of time to give to them. They were wonderful parents so I’m going to guess that part of my time will be more present for them. And my husband and I bought a little house in Rhode Island so we’ll spend some more time by the ocean, too. It just seemed like it was time to go.
Q: What will you miss most about Genet Elementary School?
A: The folks that are here, particularly the staff that are here right now. They are rather remarkable. I would say I can’t take credit for hiring even half of them. A lot of them have been here longer than me. They are really good people, they have great senses of humor, they are very dedicated, they are very enjoyable. So I will miss coming in the front door and seeing them.
And I’ll miss the kids. When you’re standing out there in the morning and they are all arriving, they call good morning to you, they are excited to see you, that’s very fulfilling. So I’ll miss the kids, I’ll miss the staff. I have a wonderful secretary who’s been much more than a secretary for me. She’s been a good friend. So I expect to keep in touch with her. I’ll miss the people and coming here every day.