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Retired educator just can’t stay away

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Even retirement can't keep Janet Bird away from school.

She still goes back to Northlake Elementary in Tooele with her puppets and books to read to the children. In January, she'll be a maternity-leave substitute. The students cheered the news and charged her as 7-year-olds do.

"That's one of the most wonderful things about teaching. You can have a bad day out of school. But every morning, when I'd go to school, all my cares and worries were gone because I was with the children," said Bird, Tooele School District's Teacher of the Year. "There was not a bad day."

Bird feels she was always a teacher, and always will be.

As a young Price mother, Bird taught her children, their friends and anyone else she could find how to read. Sometimes, she taught piano lessons. Sometimes, singing. She simply wanted to share the wonder of learning.

At the suggestion of her husband, Bruce, Bird returned to college for a teaching degree. She earned her degree from Utah State University around the time her fifth child was born.

Teaching second grade was a perfect fit for Bird, and there she stayed. Children that age simply were too fun to leave.

When else do eyes pop watching a chick hatch or the way ants go about their business?

Or the laughter waft in when you're dressed in a funny costume and speaking in some made-up accent for a morning's worth of classes?

Where else but Bird's class could you make human-size bubbles by hovering over a plastic swimming pool, dipping a hula hoop in a potion and pulling it over your head? Even moms visiting class that day got a kick out of that one.

And every year, Bird varied her routine. The best part is the kids learned all the while.

"They never knew they were being taught to think, taught to process information, to look at things from various points of view. They just thought, 'This is all part of the great classroom we have with Mrs. Bird,' " principal Robin Nielson said. "She's the kind of teacher that has made me a better administrator."

So it was hard to swallow when Bird, after 23 years of teaching, announced her retirement.

"We miss seeing her smiling face around here," said Cindy Heap, a school worker whose son, Brian, was in Bird's class last year.

Bird returns to school from time to time. She reads to the children and visits with old friends.

Sometimes, she sees parents of past classes at the supermarket. They greet her with hugs.

And, she hopes, students will never forget how much she loved them. She tried to prove it daily with her signature good-bye wave, with third- and fourth fingers curled to make an "I love you" sign.

"If the whole world were like the children," Bird said, "we'd have a wonderful world."

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com