Friday brought a tender farewell for a Utah teacher who spent more than 50 years in the classroom.

Louise Bitner started teaching kindergarten in 1971. She taught at Rosslyn Heights Elementary for 32 years until the school closed down. She spent her last two decades at Dilworth Elementary in Salt Lake City.

“I love the music, the PE, the art, learning about authors and reading to the children,” Bitner said. “I love it all. I grew up in a home where education was such a priority.”

Bitner has an energy that matches the children she has taught for decades. “It is fun. Everyday is a new adventure, and children respond to positive praise,” Bitner said.

On Friday, the children gathered around Bitner to wish her well during her retirement. The hugs were endless.

“As an incoming kindergartner, I was so nervous to go to school. I had anxiety,” Summer Chatwin said. “Miss Bitner made me feel needed at school. She gave me purpose.”

Chatwin was in Bitner’s class in 1983. Now her children attend Dilworth where Bitner teaches.

“We had lived out of state for a while. A few years back I was registering a kindergartner and third grader at Dilworth Elementary,” Chatwin said. “I walked in the doors and there was Miss Bitner. She immediately, without skipping a beat, said ‘Hi Summer! Are you coming to this school?’ I hadn’t seen her for 20 years. But she remembered me. She invests in people. She shares love at every turn.”

Now the former student has become a parent who volunteers in Bitner’s classroom.

“She has become a lovely friend of mine as an adult,” Chatwin said. “It’s one of the most amazing journeys of a mentor becoming a friend.”

The line of parents to thank Bitner extended outside Friday. In every exchange, Bitner referenced parents, grandparents, current and former students. She flawlessly remembered every name correctly.

Kindergarten teacher Louise Bitner bids farewell to students on the last day of class at Dilworth Elementary in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 3, 2022. Bitner, 73, is retiring after 51 years of teaching. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“People say, ‘How do you remember?’ I say, ‘How do you forget?’ When you have looked at a wonderful little face for 180 days, they become part of your world,” Bitner said.

When asked what the biggest change to the classroom has been in the last 51 years, Bitner mentioned a boost in confidence for some students and an increase in anxiety for others. She also noted the need to focus more on manners.

“The first questions I used to be asked at parent-teacher conference 51 years ago included, ‘Is my child respectful to you? Are they polite in class? Are they well behaved? Are they nice to the other students?’ Those are questions I rarely get asked anymore,” Bitner said.

Bitner was the winner of a Huntsman Education Award in 1998. She has already signed up to volunteer and substitute at Dilworth next school year.