A Career in the Classroom: Music Teacher Marlene Kotab

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When professional athletes like Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant retire, they get farewell tours, parades down city streets and make headlines around the world.

When great teachers retire, they often go quietly - closing the door to their classrooms and perhaps getting a congratulatory cake in the school cafeteria.

But Julie Oberlander wants to put them in the headlines as well and shine the spotlight on just a handful of local teachers who have spent a "Career in the Classroom."

Teaching music at the elementary level goes beyond showing kids notes and rests and using the mnemonic "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" to help them remember the lines of the treble clef.

These days it often includes history lessons and foreign languages too, as you'll see at Whitewood Elementary School in the classroom with longtime music teacher Marlene Kotab.

Kindergartners singing in Spanish. Fifth graders doing a traditional Russian/Ukrainian dance.

It's all in a day's work for Marlene Kotab, who's been teaching music, and much more, for 37 years.

Kotab says, "Thirty-seven years all together; 21 of them here. I can't believe it's been that many years, but I have the programs to prove it in my file."

What's changed in that time? Technology's influence on kids. Mrs. Kotab says their minds work differently now than they did when she started in the classroom.

Kotab says, "I think kids were a little calmer and could sit for a longer period of time. So I think over the years, we've just had to have five things within a class time, rather than just two or three."

Which might mean jumping from dance rehearsal, to rehearsing musical instruments, to decoding the lyrics of a folk song once sung by slaves and then practicing it for an upcoming performance.

Students have benefited not only from Kotab's teaching skills but also her time on the Sturgis Area Arts Council. Playing dual roles, she's been able to bring unique programs to the Black Hills that open up the world of music to local kids.

She says, "The first one was from Russia, and then we brought someone from Australia and Ireland."

And while the world is at their musical fingertips, there are even bigger lessons she hopes students take from her classroom.

Kotab says, "Trying to teach them to be kind to each other. To not be afraid to be emotional, which I am all the time because they know they've done a good job if they see me crying, and I think just that music has a big, big place in their lives and they shouldn't be afraid to show that emotion."

She gets emotional, too, when she thinks about NOT teaching here next year. She says she'll miss the great staff and wonderful teachers who've always been supportive of her music program, and - of course - the kids, who've taught her over the years just how creative and caring they can be.

Kotab says, "I'll miss their little notes and their little things they color for me. But I think mostly what I'll miss is just knowing I have a little bit of influence in their life."

While Marlene Kotab is retiring from teaching, she's not retiring from the many other musical roles she plays in her community. She says she'll continue to conduct the 70-voice Easter Cantata Choir in Sturgis each spring, the community concerts there, the summer musical, and she'll remain heavily involved in the music ministry at Grace Lutheran Church.

In the days ahead on Black Hills FOX News at 9, we'll highlight three middle school teachers and one principal all calling it a career this year, as well as a high school teacher who's retiring after more than 50 years in the classroom.